Charlie – Ryan Keira Armstrong – is eleven years old and has a superpower: enormous mental strength, capable of unleashing firestorms. Explosions that arise from emotions. When she feels pain, anger or fear, in a heartbeat, she can start the fire around her. Her father, Zac Efron, has another, different power. He manages to influence the will of others, but at the cost of a tremendous mental effort, which leads him to cry tears of blood. He and his mother – Sydney Lemmon – have spent years constantly on the run, trying to steal their daughter from the aims and laboratory experiments of a government agency. The family lives in fear: the federal organization wants to take the child and continue the experiments. After an episode at school, the family can no longer hide. On his trail there is a murderer. Father and daughter will find themselves fleeing, between the countryside and isolated houses, hunted down. The girl will soon have to test her gift, which is also a sentence, which makes her “different” from others, which makes her dangerous and deadly even when she doesn’t want to.
It has been more than forty years since Stephen King published the novel “The Incendiary”. It was 1980: they were still the first years of King’s feverish production, “Carrie” and “The Shining” had already been released, the rest was still to come. In 1984 the first film adaptation of the novel was released: protagonist, a very young Drew Barrymore. In Italy, the film was released under the title Uncontrollable paranormal phenomena.
Here we are, now, again grappling with the girl who plays with fire. And no, Stieg Larsson and Lisbeth Salander are not involved. Stephen King’s novel is always about. And from the novel an American TV series was also born in 2002, with Malcolm McDowell among the protagonists, entitled Firestarter 2: Rekindled.
This time, the driving force behind the operation is producer Jason Blum with his Blumhouse, specializing in low-budget horror. And the B-movie atmosphere is all there: few frills, framing always on the faces of the characters, almost total absence of extras, minimal sets, vintage special effects. All on Zac Efron’s – bleeding – eyes, and Ryan Keira Armstrong’s full of pain, anger and determination. A girl who electrocutes, burns those who want to harm her, and who suffers from this power of her: a bit like Matilde from Gabriele Mainetti’s Freaks Out, the electric girl whose heart swells and burns under her clothes.
But if we imagine the kinship with Matilde of Freaks Out, there is a documented kinship of the character of Charlie McGee with a contemporary heroine: Charlie is one of the inspirers of Eleven, of the Netflix TV series Stranger Things.
Eh well, what’s the movie like, anyway? The definition of the evil and cruel government agency is very vague, and the whole narrative trend is not exactly unpredictable. There are no surprises worthy of the name: instead, the atmospheres dear to Stephen King remain, endless countryside, isolated houses, violated innocences, the feeling of diversity.