Firestarter fails to fire in tepid Stephen King horror film - cinema review

Firestarter (15), (94 mins), Cineworld Cinemas.

Firestarter
Firestarter

And the moral is, presumably, don’t ever let anyone do medical experiments on you.

Poor old Andy (Zac Efron) ends up with the ability to make anyone do whatever he wants just by scrunching his eyes. Sounds good?

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The problem is that it comes at a price. His eyes bleed and the whole thing is slowly, very slowly, doing him in.

As for his wife Vicky (Sydney Lemmon), she can move objects at will. But again, it’s not a gift that does her terribly much good.

Worst of all is their daughter Charlie (Ryan Kiera Armstrong), gifted or blighted by the strange ability to make things burst into flames.

Rightly, and fair enough, Andy and Vicky bring her up to play down her powers, but inevitably it’s a disrupted childhood. Basically they are on the run from a murky federal agency that wants to turn Charlie’s pyrotechnic wizardry into a weapon of mass destruction.

The tightrope they’ve got to walk is to keep her calm and pain free. When she’s tense and distressed, that’s when things around her tend to combust.

Meanwhile, those shadowy forces are getting ever closer.

Such is the tale of everyday American folks, based on the novel by Stephen King, that this film unfurls, and frankly you’d expect it to be rather more gripping.

It’s billed as horror, and yes, there are some gruesome deaths, but really it’s more sci-fi.

Director Keith Thomas really ought to have upped the peril at pretty much every turn.

Even when Andy and Charlie go on the run, you are not exactly drawn to the edge of your seat

An incident lets the baddies know the family’s location and a mysterious operative (Michael Greyeyes) comes after them – mysterious in the sense that we know absolutely nothing about him.

The trouble is that he doesn’t exactly inspire curiosity – even when he ends up being the key to it all.

But as the pursuit deepens, it’s unclear who is protecting whom, especially when Andy gets captured and Charlie is left alone to leg it.

Not that she gets terribly far.

She’s soon using her powers to try to release her old pa from the clutches of the evil scientists, an ill-defined bunch who inhabit the grimmest and grubbiest of concrete bunkers.

Certainly the film flickers a bit towards the end.

But it doesn’t go out in a blaze of glory. Instead you are left wondering quite what the point of it all was.

Possibly it’s one of those films that was more impressive, more intense as a book; as a film it neither thrills nor frightens, a weird mix of the utterly unlikely wrapped up in the mostly unappealing.

It’s a film so far removed from any kind of normality that it doesn’t provoke terribly much emotion in you, either way.

Given Charlie’s remarkable powers, it really ought to be a blast.

In reality, it’s all barely tepid