Stephen King has had a on off relationship with the big screen, sometimes they get it right (The Dead Zone, IT, The Running Man, Carrie, The Shawshank Redemption) and sometimes they get it completely wrong (Maximum Overdrive, Needful Things, Dreamcatcher and the recent Pet Semetary remake), then there is a whole middle ground of King adaptations, which while aren’t good or bad, are interesting enough but probably aren’t worthy of a big screen outing. Firestarter starring Drew Barrymore was one of these and now we have horror emporium Blumhouse delivering us a bright shiny new version with Zac Efron.
A couple desperately try to hide their daughter, Charlie, from a shadowy federal agency that wants to harness her unprecedented gift for turning fire into a weapon of mass destruction. Her father taught her how to defuse her power, but as Charlie turns 11, the fire becomes harder and harder to control. When a mysterious operative finally finds the family, he tries to seize Charlie once and for all but she has other plans.
Another of Kings novels that has a character carrying the ‘Shining’ or the ‘push’ as it is labelled here, this Firestarter remake isn’t actually too bad. For the most part the original version with Drew Barrymore was too ‘nice’ Barrymore’s Charlie was more cute than threat and wasn’t someone that you’d consider a problem, whereas here Ryan Kiera Armstrong has far more edge and someone who would turn you into a toasted marshmallow for looking at you.
Keith Thomas who is probably best known for 2019s The Vigil, has constructed a decent remake that doesn’t simply retread a scene by scene redo, but offers a more modern outlook on things (They don’t have access to the internet and do everything in cash) and are simply trying to stay out of harms way, but when the inevitable shady government types turn up and capture Andy (Zac Efron) that’s when Thomas kicks the effects laden finale into high gear. Firestarter is at it’s best when you know Charlie is about to loose it and the sheer dread of who’s getting roasted next come to bear.
John Carpenters soundtrack though is incredible and works as an extra character throughout. The tension is ratcheted up just as soon as the first few bars hit, the fire is given a almost Michael Myers (Halloween) signature which creates it as its own character developing through the film.
That said Firestarter isn’t without it’s problems, at times you will sit and wonder if you are watching a Stephen King Horror or a Marvel Superhero origin story such is the way the film sways from one to the other. At times the story pulls itself out of balance by flitting between setups too quickly before forgetting the reason what they were setting up. Kurtwood Smith’s character obsession with powder paint isn’t fully examined but his appearance and John Beasley too are welcome additions to any movies, but alas their appearances are all too brief.
For those of a certain age, will now be against at the fact that they have watched Zac Efron going from all singing and dancing teenager (High School Musical, Hairspray) to Dad roles too. Efron puts in yet another great performance despite the overuse of the bleeding eyes. But as for the poor cat, despite the gallows humour of the scene Efron manages to keep a straight face long enough for us to realise that he might actually be a little unhinged himself.
Firestarter is no IT remake, but then fortunately for us it’s no Pet Semetary remake either, and actually its a solid remake that actually improves on the original.
Firestarter is in cinemas Nationwide now