There have been so many ordinary Stephen King adaptations that a new rule of thumb should be established: if you’re going to recreate one, it must be better than the original.
The latest Firestarter edition qualifies, but only passes the minimums. We’re spared Drew Barrymore’s natural campiness as Charlie, the little girl with pyrokinetic skills, who was then not that far away from E.T. There isn’t a single scene of the major character’s hair being hoisted unnaturally over her head as if she were in the worst-ever shampoo commercial. Rainbird is played by Michael Greyeyes (Wild Indian, Rutherford Falls), a Native American actor, rather than George C. Scott, whose presence was everything but Indigenous.
Otherwise, this remake, which is in cinemas and streaming on Peacock at the same time, feels mostly like a good cable television movie, albeit one with enough violence and language to get an R classification. Or, to put it another way, it seems like the pilot of a streaming series, which seems likely given the insatiable desire for IP content.
Ryan Kiera Armstrong is a gifted young actor and no new to Stephen King, having featured in It: Chapter Two, or to horror in general, having had a recurring part in an American Horror Story season. She’s realistically fragile and terrifying as an 11-year-old with incendiary talents, the result of being born to parents who had psychic ability owing to being subjects of drug experiments while they were naive college students.
Andy (Zac Efron) and Vicky (Sydney Lemmon) have gone off the radar to avoid the mystery government entity that wants to utilize Charlie’s abilities for malicious purposes. Andy serves as a “life coach,” assisting young ladies in quitting smoking. Such rigorous efforts are not without consequence, as his eyes bleed like an ocular stigma every time he utilizes them.
However, in Stephen King‘s books, the past always seems to come up with you. After Charlie’s abilities are discovered, a nefarious government agent (Gloria Reuben) deploys Rainbird to track down the family and seize Charlie. When his initial effort fails, father and daughter flee the country, momentarily hiding out with an elderly farmer (amazing veteran actor John Beasley) before falling into the agency’s hands. Needless to say, it all comes to a head in a furious conclusion.
It’s a little disheartening that filmmaker Keith Thomas, who created and directed 2019’s The Vigil, one of the more adventurous and innovative horror films in recent years, has moved into the mainstream with this passable but uninspired effort. The same may be said of Scott Teems’ (Halloween Kills) monotonous writing, which lacks the dark humor that would have enlivened the absurd scenario. This is the type of material that calls for Brian De Palma’s baroque stylizations, which he popularized with the not-so-distantly similar Carrie.
The performers, to their credit, give it they’re all, with Greyeyes captivating as the steely Rainbird and Efron touching as the father desperately attempting to protect his daughter and teach her how to handle her talents. (Yes, Efron has matured into father roles, but not into a dad physique, as a naked opening sequence indicates.) The picture is also very fast-paced, clocking in about twenty minutes less than the original 1984 version.
While there are a few real shocks (cat lovers may want to turn away for one particularly disturbing moment), it never reaches the deliriously creepy heights one might anticipate from a film adaptation of one of King’s cheesier novels. It’s an experience Blumhouse should keep in mind as it prepares to remake Christine, a lesser King adaptation.
The 1983 film adaptation of Christine was directed by John Carpenter, who was set to helm the original Firestarter until Universal dropped out after The Thing’s box office failure. Carpenter has contributed a fantastically frightening electronic music score for this endeavor, possibly its most distinguishing aspect, along with his musical partners Cody Carpenter and Daniel Davies.