There’s bad luck in store this Friday the 13th. Not just for all those involved with Blumhouse’s limp new take on Stephen King’s Firestarter but also for the cursed few who’ll end up watching a misbegotten theatrical release wisely coupled with a more modest US streaming launch on Peacock. Whatever the screen size, it’s a non-starter.
Based on one of the author’s less engaging yet still successful books, mixing elements of Carrie and The Dead Zone, straddling sci-fi, adventure and horror, Firestarter modernises a story that we now see far, far too often. Since its release in 1980 and the first adaptation in 1984, Hollywood has been consumed by the possibilities of superpowers, mostly on an increasingly, dizzyingly large stage but also in smaller self-contained stories. As Everything Everywhere All at Once continues to ride high, alongside the release of Marvel’s Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness and Eskil Vogt’s The Innocents, we’re reminded that both arthouse and multiplex have reached superpower saturation. It’s perhaps why the arrival of Firestarter is even more of a bore, retelling a story we know all too well and don’t need to hear yet again.
After some promising credits, stylishly filling in the backstories of college student couple Andy (Zac Efron) and Vicky (Sydney Lemmon) and the nefarious testing they choose to take part in, we fast forward to see the family they’ve now made with 11-year-old daughter Charlie (Ryan Kiera Armstrong). They live remotely without any phones or wifi, moving when needed, a constant shroud of mystery to hide their identities and powers. Vicky has a mild, untrained form of telekinesis, Andy has psychic abilities and Charlie has pyrokinesis, turning things and people into fire when her emotions are at their most extreme. After an accident at school, things start to fall apart at home and their cover is blown.
What follows is a maddeningly tension-free chase narrative as the family tries to evade capture from another superpowered test subject gone rogue (Michael Greyeyes) and the malevolent agent (Gloria Reubens) who hired him. Director Keith Thomas’s pacing is as flat as his visuals, a shame given the buzz that surrounded his 2019 horror The Vigil, his latest a dramatic downturn for a genre film-maker already consumed by the system. Firestarter is as anonymous and unnecessary as they come, the kind of dated “just because” remake that cluttered up cinemas in the 2000s. While the original is far from indispensable (it’s also rather dull), at the very least it provided a showcase for a young Drew Barrymore, who gave a typically precocious and persuasive performance. There’s nothing even close to that here although Efron, smoothly graduating to dad roles, uses his easy movie star charisma to rise above the lethargy of the film surrounding him.
Scott Teems’s drearily perfunctory script is at least not as howlingly bad as his script for Halloween Kills, a small mercy, although both films bizarrely share John Carpenter in charge of the music, his throwback synth score working at odds with Thomas’s pedestrian aesthetic. No one here seems to know what they’re doing and, more importantly, why. A strong contender for 2022’s most pointless movie.