Firestarter (2022)

Starring: Zac Efron, Ryan Keira Armstrong, Sydney Lemmon, Gloria Reuben, John Beasley, Michael Greyeyes, and Kurtwood Smith.

Directed By: Keith Thomas

Where I Watched It: Peacock

English Audio Description Available?: Yes

Do i Know Who Did It?: no, Peacock refuses to let me watch credits.

The Plot: A reimagining, not a reboot, requel, or whatever. No idea how close to the book this is, but several major things are diffferent from the original, though the core concept is the same. Two parents (Efron and Lemmon), who were subjected to trials that gave them special powers, have been on the run from the government that created them. They now have a child, Charlie (Armstrong), who has her own powers, and she’s finding it harder and harder to control them. Eventually, the government finds them, and they also find out just exactly how powerful Charlie really is.

What Works: Well, I suppose to keep things interesting, they changed it up enough so that a new audience could discover it, regardless of whether they had seen the original, or read the book. Some people will undoubtedly hate that, but what I’m seeing out of the early reactions is that everyone knows there was an original film in 1984, but no one but me has seen it. And apparently, no one read the book. So, people just have thoughts about this being pushed as an R rated Blumhouse title, suggesting it’s a horror movie, and then finding out it’s more of a superhero origin story.

The truth is, it’s not a horror film because Charlie isn’t a villain, and taking the superhero origin story here almost works, because (more so in the first film) it’s the government that’s bad, and Charlie is just a helpless little girl trying to stay alive. Drew Barrymore was adorable while setting people on fire, which made her sympathetic. Armstrong is aged up a bit, and comes across more mature, and less helpless, but she really doesn’t want to hurt anyone, and wants to control her abilities. It’s just that people won’t leave her and her family alone, and she never truly feels safe.

So, if you keep pushing her, you get what you get.It’s this concept that worked well in the original, that still works here, despite all the reasons this film is still inferior.

Other positive things of note, despite me having no idea who Sydney Lemmon is, she has decidedly more time on screen and more dialogue than her more famous counterpart, Heather Locklear, did in the original. Locklear barely registered in the original, but Lemmon’s mother is expanded and given more to do.

Also, this film does not deserve, nor did it earn the right to have John Carpenter do the score. however, that’s what happened, so enjoy a delightful John Carpenter score. Why he chose this film? No idea. But, it’s another reason to elevate the project.

What Doesn’t Work: Honestly, the rush to make this project as short as humanly possible, without actually figuring out what the correct pacing should be, or any sort of cohesive layout is the biggest problem. The original film spent a great deal of time investing on the idea that the government chasing them down was bad, and we knew that from square one. They were being chased by agents the entire film, never really letting up. All those “at home” moments were done in flashbacks, but here, we start there and build. It actually doesn’t do the movie any favors, because it works so hard at establishing the family, that it ends up sacrificing establishing the enemy, and honestly a lot of the battle/death sequences as a result. Barrymore’s Charlie killed more people, but this Charlie has the benefit of gore. So, less deaths, but more gore? That’s not a movie. Gore should not be the driving force behind a movie. You should want a plot, with some conflict and resolution. That barely exists here because most of the final act was stripped down. Why? i have no idea.

in the first film, we see much more of this agency, and they managed to catch Charlie, which gives her this whole opportunity to be tested. She even gets to explain her powers more, like how she uses water to keep herself from being consumed. They dumped all that, I guess explaining how Charlie’s powers work ws too much for this writer. The original film also went a different way with the character of Rainbird, who was an assassin played by George C Scott, who also had a real name, and Rainbird was his co-sign. Here, Rainbird is the guys name, and he’s now Native American. I’m all about diversity, so that change doesn’t bother me.

But what did bother me was the structural change of Rainbird’s character, which is somewhat hard to talk about without spoilers, so I’m sorry if this doesn’t make much sense. But, the first film had Scott’s Rainbird play a “good guy” to Charlie, despite the fact that he’s the reason she’s captured. he actually shoots her in the neck in the original, but all of that was thrown out for a completely different take. The original allowed this creepy bonding between Charlie and Rainbird, where he gains her trust, and ultimately gets her to do the experiments. He’s worked her over so well in the first film that it made the final climax actually interesting, as he’s ready to terminate Charlie, her dad knows Rainbird’s the assassin, but Charlie trusts him so much that her conflict with what to do makes the finish actually interesting.

Here, they just went a completely different way, which despite diversifying the cast, does nothing for the film. In fact, the ending of the movie is made worse for it. I also have to point out the downgrade we get in the cast. Zac Efron is not believable as a dad. I like him as an actor, but he’s miscast here, and even struggles with some of the regular straight forward lines he’s given. It’s not a great performance from him.

The original film managed to have Martin Sheen, George C Scott, Art carney, and Louise Fletcher, four Oscar nominated actors, some of whom had actually won an Oscar even prior to starring in Firestarter. For the remake, those characters become Gloria Reuben, the guy from Rutherford Falls, John Beasley, and Louise Fletcher’s role was reduced so dramatically it almost doesn’t exist. In fact, the farmers that Charlie and her dad meet in the original, that provide for a way better ending than this film got, do completely different things and serve a different purpose. That whole thing is nowhere near what the original did, though they did keep the chickens.

I’m honestly not sure any of the changes were for the better, because they all took away from the actual story, the characters, and the plot. this new film… just went in a different direction, which can at times be interesting, but when compared, loses to the original.

The Blind Perspective: The audio description here is nice, as it assumes it is narrating a horror film (though that is debatable), and focuses on horror elements. So you get a better description of the gore, violence, and destruction. Also, little details, like the VERY brief beginning test sequence for the parents, make sure to throw some of the graphic images in the description. In all, it was a very appropriate description, and you can follow who dies when, and how bad it all is. You may not always know what everyone’s clothing is, though there are a few instances, though we rarely show up to scary movies for the costumes (unless they are gothic like Crimson Peak).

Final Thoughts: While i appreciated the expansion of Charlie’s mom, from almost non existent to supporting, and also John Carpenter’s score, there’s almost too much ripped out of the guts of the story, and especially this mysterious organization, that makes the final act work, and makes those people seem far more nefarious. And the ending, is not earned, nor is it deserved. The original also has a better “final scene”.

Final Grade: C-

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