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Sick Burn

Firestarter sputters before it catches on

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Nostalgia is a tricky lens through which to view the past, especially pop culture. A movie or a show that we grew up with carries much more emotional cache than something we just stumbled across on Hulu at 4pm on a Thursday. "Star Wars" is a perfect example: For some people (me included), the original trilogy is so deeply connected with childhood and the formation of how we viewed movies and used our imaginations that they're a part of our DNA.

You won't like her when she's angry. - PHOTO COURTESY OF BLUMHOUSE
  • Photo courtesy of Blumhouse
  • You won't like her when she's angry.

When I was a tyke, Stephen King was my "Star Wars." The first book I can ever remember reading was "Pet Semetary" and not a year of my life has gone by where I haven't read or re-read at least one of his books. I love that new generations keep discovering his books and modern filmmakers keep taking a stab at adapting the books or remaking the movies from the '70s and '80s. The 1984 film version of "Firestarter" is one of the first horror flicks I had ever seen and I remember it scaring the living hell out of me. As a seven-year-old I was terrified of little girls giving me dirty looks and then telekinetically bursting into flames. When I saw that Blumhouse (the production company responsible for "Paranormal Activity" and hundreds of other modern horror films) was filming a remake, I figured this would be the perfect opportunity to go back and rewatch the original and see if it still scared the crap out of me.

I'm sad to say that not only is the original not very scary, but aside from a wonderful performance by a nine-year-old Drew Barrymore, there's not much to recommend. Martin Sheen is barely in the movie as the main villain, George C. Scott is (ughhhhhhhh) horribly playing a Native man named Rainbird, and David Keith just doesn't have the chops to carry the movie as Barrymore's dad, Andy, a psychic on the run with his little girl from an off-the-books government agency,

It's a fast-paced thriller more than a horror movie, as right from the jump Andy and his daughter Charlie are on the run. Amazingly enough, I think the remake might actually do a better job adapting King's book into something more emotional and intense.

First of all, Zac Efron is fantastic as Andy, balancing the psychic pain of his swelling brain with a genuinely great chemistry with Ryan Kiera Armstrong as his daughter Charlie. They have a lived-in connection that feels honest, giving the movie an emotional center that the original doesn't have. On top of that, Michael Greyeyes is a much better choice as Rainbird, the pacing and filmmaking is much slicker and the 94-minute runtime keeps everything moving.

Sadly, the movie still isn't scary. It's better than the original, yes, but ultimately what we have here is an origin story for what could either be a superhero or a villain. We've seen this type of story about a youngster discovering their powers so many times in the decades since the original that filmmaker Keith Thomas needed to come at the idea from a different angle. But 2022's "Firestarter" is just another version of "X-Men," but with horrific burnings.

Maybe "Firestarter" isn't supposed to be scary. Instead, it can just exist as a cautionary tale for pre-teen girls not to suppress their feelings and to be themselves. King's novel is arguably not one of his best and certainly not one of his scariest, but there should be a way to give people the fear of spontaneously bursting into flames because a little girl looks at you funny. As it stands, this is just a slightly bloodier version of "Turning Red." I guess that's pretty scary.

Firestarter
Dir. Keith Thomas
Grade: C+
Regal Old Mill, Peacock

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