Firestarter Review: Unambitious Stephen King Remake Lacks Horror & Thrills

There is no doubt that Stephen King and his novels have a chokehold on the horror genre. His work has been consistently adapted to the big screen since the 1970s. Now firmly in an era of where his work is being re-adapted, each new entry offers diminishing returns.
Firestarter, a remake of the 1984 movie of the same name, doesn’t justify its existence. 
Firestarter is a dull rehash of material viewers are likely already familiar with and which was done better the first time around.,The film’s opening introduces baby Charlie, Vicky (Sydney Lemmons) and Andy McGee (Zac Efron). They are a young, seemingly ordinary family — that is, until Charlie nearly sets her nursery on fire and then combusts in her father’s arms. This is, of course, a nightmare that the concerned and stressed out Andy is having. Thereafter, a montage sequence is shown of Andy and Vicky as co-ed students entering into a medical trial. The two are injected and they survive the trials, only to walk away with their own set of powers. When they have Charlie, she develops extraordinary, and more destructive, powers than them. The story continues with Charlie (Ryan Keira Armstrong) as she navigates being a young girl ostracized at school and on the run from “The Shop.”,Related: Firestarter’s John Carpenter Role Fixes An 80s Stephen King Mistake,The segment relating to Andy and Vicky could have easily been a miniseries on Peacock because
Firestarter feels like a muted knockoff of
Stranger Things. Contemporary audiences will be more accustomed to the bonafide hit from Netflix and less with the
Firestarter novel or the Drew Barrymore-led film from 1984. Charlie’s story is not nearly as impressive as Eleven’s, nor is it more engaging than the original film. So, what does this remake accomplish? When it came to the 2017 remake of 
IT by Andy Muschietti, his adaptation built on decades worth of technological advances to visualize Pennywise’s terrifying antics with the added benefit of the evolution of horror. Some story adjustments from the books also helped make it a succinct and effective remake that stands on its own.
Firestarter doesn’t take advantage of the technology to make Charlie’s powers feel greater and scarier than before and the story changes aren’t nearly as effective as they could be.,Firestarter is staged and shot like a TV movie, which suggests it should have been a miniseries. Director Keith Thomas and writer Scott Teems’ efforts are admirable, but it is all for naught when their attempts to make an enthralling sci-fi thriller are contained in a lackluster film that needed more time to flesh out its story. Teems’ script is interested in the aspects that surround Charlie’s conception and the institution that chases her. It is also engaged in the moral obligations Charlie’s parents have to their daughter. There is also a touch of comedy in the dialogue that is not capitalized on enough, especially when Zac Efron is keen to lean into those moments. Ultimately, there is a mismanagement of expectations and ambitions.,Thomas’ directing is steady and solid. There is no grandeur involved, which is a shame for Charlie’s powers. This science fiction horror has a distinct lack of horror, with Thomas’ camera cutting away from the more frightening moments. Instead, all the elements that make this story scary or an intriguing sci-fi are blandly presented and told. The film is rated R, but it seems that it is only for the dialogue and the brief shots of the aftermath of Charlie’s attacks. Aside from that, there is no substantive horror throughout the film to warrant the rating. Furthermore, very little is done to craft a complete character out of Charlie, whose powers see her emitting fire blasts that incinerate cats and people.,Despite feeling good about using her gifts, there is a distinct lack of ambition or character drama with her. She is only a scared kid, which is fine, but makes for a boring concept. Characters are made to feel frightened of her, but there is nothing about her that is, even when she begins to unleash her powers. It all falls flat. None can convincingly salvage this tale despite solid performances from Michael Greyeyes, Gloria Rueben, Efron, and Ryan Kiera Armstrong. Each actor seemingly belongs to an entirely different version of the story. Greyeyes’ Rainbird, which fixes a casting mistake from the original, is severely underutilized. His feelings of awe or obsession with Charlie are out of place and poorly established. Reuben’s lines are punctuated with a metaphorical twirl. Efron is perhaps the most attuned to what is expected, but his performance suffers from little to no decisive directing. Armstrong looks and acts like someone who has definitely watched Millie Bobby Brown’s performance in 
Stranger Things. Her performance, paired with the film’s synth-based score, makes it clear what the directive was for green lightning in this film and in casting Armstrong in the role.,Firestarter is at an unfortunate disadvantage as it must outdo several novels, films, and television shows that have dealt with similar themes and characters. Sadly, this adaptation fails to stand out from all the other sci-fi horrors about people being used for experiments. It doesn’t even compare to the original 1984 film nor does it stand tall alongside great recent Stephen King adaptations like 2017’s 
IT and 2019’s
Doctor Sleep.
Firestarter is more like 
Pet Sematary and
Carrie, a dull, exhausting remake that doesn’t do anything new.,NEXT: Men Review: Alex Garland’s Most Ambiguous Horror Is Unsettling & Surreal,Firestarter opened in theaters and began streaming on Peacock Friday, May 13. It is 94 minutes long and rated R for violent content.