Directed by Keith Thomas
Starring Zac Efron, Ryan Kiera Armstrong and Sydney Lemmon
May I go on an anti-remake diatribe again? OK, I won’t, but if you want to understand my growing disdain for recycled IP you can read my reviews of Ghostbusters Afterlife, Westside Story, and many more. Is the 1984 version of Firestarter a beloved film that no one should ever attempt to remake? No, but it is a fun 80’s film that gave us a young Drew Barrymoore as the lead. For the most part, the original was uneventful throughout its unnecessarily long run time (114 minutes). Unfortunately, the only thing that young director Keith Thomas’ remake did better was to shave off 20 minutes.
Just as boring and even more plodding as the original, our story starts with a promising, superhero-style origin story flashback and quickly devolves into a derivative, lackluster horror film that poorly employs all of the genre’s familiar tropes. There’s schoolyard bullying and a family on the run, but the worst offender is the “random stranger helps the protagonist out” storyline executed with an almost cartoonish effect by John Beasley as Irv. We spend a good portion of the film with this character as the film tries various plot devices to make us “care” about him. I didn’t, and neither do the leads of this film, at least not convincingly.
Zac Efron tries hard to take the script seriously, delivering lines with conviction, but falls flat in poorly written and directed scenes where he plays opposite his character’s daughter, the Firestarter. Films carried by child actors are risky – a few bad scenes early on can soil an audience quickly. Ryan Kiera Armstrong does her best but ultimately fails to convince the audience that she feels her family’s peril. Perhaps the plot required an actress older than twelve?
Firestarter’s only bright spot is the way it looks. Karim Hussain gives the film a slicker feel than its 12 million dollar budget would suggest, which should come as no surprise coming from the cinematographer who helped make Brandon Cronenberg’s small budget indie film Possessor look like an interesting big studio film. With fantastic lighting and unique camera angles I wanted to like Firestarter, but the disjointed editing, weak script and poor performances made it nearly impossible to enjoy.
Ultimately, Firestarter isn’t just a bad remake… it’s a bad film. Next time, why not let Thomas write and direct his next film as an original idea or property? It seems to work for Jordan Peele, Ari Aster and, yes… even Brandon Cronenberg. If each of these director’s second films scored a B+, A+ and B respectively than Thomas’ second film is a D.