There always seems to be an interesting side circus when producer Jason Blum announces that he is about to re-make or re-boot a horror classic. Whenever he makes an announcement I could always guarantee that soon social media will be choked with people expressing their outrage. I find it an interesting response because it seems whenever Blum releases one of his films it then sees a lot of people with red faces when they have to admit – ‘wow that was better than I expected.’
What makes the expected outcry after each announcement is the fact that horror fans have praised Blum for his re-booted Halloween films and even the films you wouldn’t expect to work – like Fantasy Island – have worked remarkably well. Now Blum turns his attention to an absolute Stephen King classic, Firestarter, and again the naysayers have been having their say on social media but I can safely say that once again they are wrong.
Directed by Keith Thomas (The Vigil) the remake of Firestarter doesn’t stray too far from the original source. Here we find the McGee family – made up of father Andy (Zac Efron – High School Musical), his wife Vicky (Sydney Lemmon – Helstrom) and daughter Charlie (Ryan Kiera Armstrong – American Horror Story) – making a life for themselves in a remote town.
However the McGee family are no ordinary family. Andy and Vicky have been left with special abilities thanks to medical laboratory experiments and they have passed their abilities onto Charlie. Mother Vicky rarely uses her abilities but Andy uses his to not only help people in exchange for money but to also protect his family.
Both Andy and Vicky become worried though when Charlie turns 11 and can no longer keep her pyrokinesis in check and the result are a couple of small incidents at both her school and at home. Those events are enough to attract the attention of the Government who wish to harness Charlie’s abilities and soon a dangerous agent named Rainbird (Michael Greyeyes – Rutherford Falls) begins to hunt them down.
I found the key to Firetarter working is its simplicity. Like most Jason Blum re-boots he makes sure that the film stays so true to Stephen King’s work that it is impossible for horror fans to hate this film. Once when I interviewed Blum I asked him what is the most important thing to him when making a film and said “that true fans will like it.” And that is something that most horror fans will find here – no Firestarter doesn’t do anything to be spectacularly different to either King’s story or the 1984 cult classic but it does do enough to remain modern and makes you hope that the story can go onto more films.
One of the things I found that makes this version of Firestarter work is that the right director was hired for the job. Keith Thomas’ film The Vigil is one of the most under-rated horror films over recent years and showed a director that knows how to get suspense to seep out of every pore of the film. He is also a natural story-teller and that comes to the fore once again with this film.
Thomas uses his experiences of working in a medical laboratory to bring a natural feel to this film. While I am a fan of the original film I found this film drew me in in a way that the original film didn’t. I felt a connection with the family depicted here and that was largely helped by the naturalism that Thomas brings to the film. Thomas also shows that he is a director who is happy to push the envelope as well and there are some pretty gritty scenes in this film that will take Hollywood by surprise. I don’t mean to spoil anything but if you struggle watching animals in pain than this may not be the film for you.
That naturalism flows through to the performances. This is the first time that Efron has played a father on screen and he does it sensationally well. The scenes he shares with his on-screen daughter, Ryan Kiera Armstrong, are often engrossing and heart-felt… something you don’t always get from a horror film.
I think this is going to be film that shows the world that Efron really is an acting force to be reckoned with, although people should have already realised that with The Paper Boy and We Are Your Friends, while it also announces Ryan Kiera Armstrong as a future star – the same way the 1984 film did for Drew Barrymore.
The only downside to Firestarter is that I found the ending to be a little rushed but with its exceptional directing and great performances this is a film that shows that there are still more tales to tell in the Firestarter universe.