Sunday, May 15, 2022

Firestarter burns up the screen with incompetence


Thank you Firestarter.

Thank you for providing a great night.

Let me back up a little bit.

I graduate from graduate school on Tuesday. In just two days. I'm having trouble wrapping my brain around it. I've been so busy this semester that the inevitable process of graduating has always felt nebulous, like the sun or the clouds, something I could see but never touch. But here it is. 48 hours from now, I'll get to walk across a stage and receive my Master's, my first time going through this process in my college experience (
I didn't accept my Associate's in a ceremony in 2018 and COVID bungled a ceremony for my Bachelor's). Finally being cognizant of that impending event has got me feeling more than a touch wistful, including over recollections on how I started this darn Land of the Nerds website eight years ago when I graduated High School. Time flies.

With the end near, I'm already feeling wistful and missing staples of Graduate School, including the multitude of friends I made there. A handful of my chums from my Graduate School film classes are whom I saw Firestarter with. To talk about the multitude of shortcomings of Firestarter (and good Lord is this a bad movie, just an embarrassment) afterwards with these people was a testament to the communal joys of cinema. So, yes, thank you Firestarter for giving me an opportunity to further bond and make memories with people I care about. That's more than other bad Blumhouse movies like The Gallows could say they accomplished.

So, enough with the personal ramblings, what is Firestarter? Both an adaptation of a Stephen King novel and a remake of 1984 Drew Barrymore movie, both also named Firestarter, this horror film concerns a young girl named Charlie (Ryan Kiera Armstrong). She has the superpower to make fire randomly appear, which is more than a touch hazardous. Her parents Andy (Zac Efron) and Vicky (Sydney Lemmon), both of whom have their own abnormal abilities, try to keep their offspring off the grid. They want to evade the attention of the evil folks at an organization that want to use Charlie as a weapon. However, an accident at Charlie's school has these nefarious forces sending John Rainbird (Michael Greyeyes) to retrieve the young girl. Charlie will now have to learn to fight back and embrace her powers if she wants to survive everything that's coming.

Why is everything so dim in Firestarter? Director Keith Thomas and cinematographer Karim Hussain inexplicably render every interior environment in this film as if they exist in a world devoid of lightbulbs. Whether it's a public school gymnasium in the middle of the day, a tucked-away spot where a sickly spouse is being kept, or a kitchen, every room in Firestarter is drenched in darkness. Optimistically, this might've been an attempt to give the film an "atmospheric" look, but there's no artistry to the use of darkness or external light. Firestarter just looks bad and murky. All it does is make one wanna reach through the screen and flip a light switch.

The lackluster visual sensibilities of the rest of the movie also make it hard to cut any slack on Firestarter's bizarre lack of proper lighting. The best example of how badly this movie stumbles even the simplest of shocking imagery comes early on when Charlie inquires about the welfare of a loved one. This is followed up by the corpse of that loved one just abruptly plopping out of a closet in the background. We then cut to an awkward close-up of the arms of this deceased individual, It's all framed, especially in the shot of a dead body slumping into the frame, like a dark background joke on The Eric Andre Show, not something that's meant to be taken seriously. A pivotal emotional moment has been bungled beyond repair. 

Firestarter has a bad habit of lapsing into comical self-parody thanks to its visual ineptitude. Just look at a flashback scene where the depiction of a cop "forgetting how to breathe", thanks to Zac Efron's telepathic superpower, will leave one in titters, not screaming in fear. The two depictions of CG charred corpses from Charlie using her powers are similarly flat and laughable. These bodies look too gooey and unrealistic to function as appropriately ominous! The dialogue inhabiting these badly-staged sequences is often just as bad. Every line in a section of the runtime where our heroes stay at a farmhouse owned by Irv (John Beasley) is especially disastrous, with none of these people sounding like, well, people. 

Firestarter's lack of visual imagination, excitement, or scares reach their apex of obviousness once the climax arrives. Here, Charlie wanders down scarcely-populated hallways of a box factory, er, an evil government organization. Flashes of orange or green lighting aren't enough to compensate for how these environments are laughably empty while the series of kills Charlie engages in have little in the way of oomph. As a cherry on top, Charlie isn't acting all that different from the start of the movie when she accidentally set her mom's arms on fire. Despite a feeble attempt at a Rocky-style training montage, there's been no indication of growth or change here. Is Firestarter gaslighting me into believing its story had any momentum whatsoever?

Firestarter is a bad movie. Just a truly abysmal piece of cinema, one where not even an occasionally interesting score from John Carpenter (that inexplicably features tracks reminiscent of Michael Myers' theme music?!?) can make the experience all that bearable. But talking about and dissecting all these shortcomings with friends, that made for a fantastic night out with friends. At least Firestarter made me appreciate the joys and connections I've made at college. That's nowhere near enough to make this disaster a good movie, but I'll always appreciate it for spurring some laughs and fun conversation. So, yes, thank you Firestarter...for doing at least one thing right.

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