Written by Becca Johnson
After the tragedy that was Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022), we have our second direct to streaming horror remake of the year. Firestarter tells the story of Charlie, a girl with extraordinary pyrokinetic powers, who must protect herself and her family from forces that wish to capture and control her. Unfortunately, Firestarter is a bland and boring remake that doesn't know what it wants to be, and regrettably makes the 80's original look like a masterpiece.
Ryan Kiera Armstrong (Black Widow) has showed promise in previous roles and wasn't a terrible casting choice for the role of young Charlie McGee, an individual who struggles to keep her powers under control when she's angry. Armstrong showcases a broad range of emotions well, especially anger. Zac Efron (The Greatest Showman) also tries his best as father Andy, who battles between hiding his daughters powers or letting her attempt to nurture them, whilst utilising special powers of his own. Unfortunately, the script doesn't allow the actors to shine, and they clearly struggle to elevate their dialogue. All side characters get minimal screen-time, including Michael Greyeyes as John Rainbird, a prominent, cold and calculating villain in the original who was boiled down to almost nothing this time around.
This isn't a beat-for-beat remake; the writers have added some new elements and changed things around, including who ends up captured and how characters die. Although adding changes may make a remake seem more worthwhile, the script unfortunately makes some nonsensical decisions and gets very confused about what it wants to be, resulting in a wannabe superhero origin story action flick. This would be almost forgivable if the action was entertaining, but the CGI was poor and the pacing completely off. Stephen King's flair is pretty invisible, there are next to no horror elements and there is zero emotion or payoff. Considering our lead character scorches humans to death, its very safe and middling, with only one scene during the final act feeling anything close to brutal.
What makes the original story so beloved is the focus on the father daughter relationship, which is another element that unfortunately gets completely lost amongst the chaos here. There is little believable chemistry between Armstrong and Efron, leaving nothing solid to root for. We barely get to know them or their backstory, stopping the audience from bonding with them and leaving everything that happens feeling inconsequential. As well as the story losing all of its horror and its charm, the dialogue unfortunately falls flat and meanders into cringe-worthy territory. One line delivered by Efron to a dead cat refers to it as 'he, she or they', which was genuinely laughable.
The saving grace is the original score, which actually surpasses the movie itself and almost makes it worth the watch. Created by horror icon John Carpenter, it's intense when it needs to be, quiet when it needs to be and always impresses; luckily it's prominent within most scenes. It may be the movies only saving grace, as the rest of the technical aspects were average. The cinematography was simply just fine, as was the editing. The original is mocked for its outdated visuals, but for some reason they're not much better this time around either. As mentioned above, the CGI is quite bad and fails to be believable.
Besides its competent musical score from Carpenter and actors that appear to try, Firestarter is a lacklustre remake. It lacks both horror and heart, features shoddy effects and suffers from a complete identity crisis. There is no development where characters are concerned, and the plot is so far removed from its source material that it becomes nonsensical. Since when did sci-fi horrors need to become superhero origin stories?