“Daddy, something feels wrong in my body…. The bad thing.”
Story: 11 year old Charlie McGee’s parents really love her. And they’re also suffering from the after-effects of signing up for a weird Government test that enhanced their psychic abilities. So guess what Charlie can do? (Um, poster. Movie title.) Now that that shadowy government office knows where Charlie is, they want her. Y’know, for completely innocent reasons. Cue the pyrotechnics!
Genre I’d put it in: Interesting Remakes That Tank Quickly
Release Date: 2022
Remake, Sequel, Based-On, or Original: Based on the Stephen King novel of the same name. A remake/reboot of the 1984 film.
Gotta say: So. Here we are, you and me. And this film is something that exists now. Well, I’m not going to scream and cry about how this movie changes so much of the overall story of King’s book and the ’84 movie. That’s giving this movie too much power. I’m fine with Blumhouse doing Blumhouse things, and then rolling the dice. Blumhouse is going to do, what Blumhouse is gonna do, but I just wish that what they did here was at least halfway decent.
As it is, this Starter begins on a promising note. The story starts off with a scene of new parents Andy and Vicky putting infant Charlie to bed. Fire-y shenanigans ensue, then we cut to an eleven-year-old Charlie (played by a believable but inadequately used Ryan Kiera Armstrong) hanging out with her mom and dad in their really groovy midcentury modern home. Even the opening credits are pretty cool, with flashbacks to Vicky and Andy’s time at The Shop, where they’d volunteered to test the drug Lot 6…the thing that gave them a touch of psychic powers (a stronger, more stable form was passed to their child Charlie). As mom doesn’t really make much of an impact in the original story/’84 film save for flashbacks, it’s nice to see the family unit. We even get a touch of Carrie White, as Charlie gets picked on at school. But hey, she’s going to school, not just constantly running! Differences! And more differences; the book/’84 film’s Big Bad is Rainbird, a Shop assassin who’s a bit too interested in seeing the life go out of his contract’s eyes. (He’s also so stereotypically “Native American” that it’s kinda gross when you see those bits nowadays.) But this Rainbird was one of the first Lot 6 test subjects (Lot 4, or something perhaps), so he’s got powers too! And he’s not a parody of First Nation stereotypes…not that he gets much screen time beyond looking solemn and shooting things.
That lack of development shows on other characters too, and the story can’t support that absence of depth. Supporting characters are played by folks who could really sink their teeth into the layered possibilities on their plate, but only get appetizers. Kurtwood Smith, John Beasley, Gloria Reuben. These talented performers are wasted here, with their Mad Scientist Who Rues The Day, Nice Grandpa Figure, and Bad Government Lady characters scratched out just well enough to know why they’re on screen. And Zac Efron does a great job with what he’s given, and he’s been doing good work with the dramatic stuff he’s done lately. I’m just hoping he’ll finally get to sink his teeth into something worthy of his developing skills. With Starter, these actors pop in and out of frame in order to advance the plot and get it to the big shiny climax.
And what a climax it is! It’s one meh after another. This is the big moment, where Charlie confronts her pursuers, gets to really unleash, and baddies tremble. But nah. Things get resolved easily, almost as if it’s an afterthought. And the ending? This dull, wet fart isn’t just disappointing, it’s confusing. What’s going on? Are we supposed to assume there’s a sequel? Please no. Please. And don’t even get me started on how John Carpenter’s techno score feels out of place in this film. Or maybe it was just reminding me that I could have been spending my time watching better movies. Tomato, potato.
Oh, and a cat gets torched, and then the camera spends an inordinate amount of time focusing on the wrecked FX remains, and pathetic cat-sounds that turned my stomach. It’s unnecessary (the “putting something out of its misery” bit later on isn’t nearly as cool as the creators think it is), off-putting, and gross in a way that makes me think lesser of the people who thought this would be a good idea. They had time to put this in, yet couldn’t give their talented supporting cast a bit more screen time?
This Starter is fine enough to stream if you’re watching at home on the comfort of your own sofa. Y’know, with other things to focus on as you pay halfhearted attention to what’s flashing on screen. Don’t focus all your attention on this one like I did; therein lies boredom. I have this screener for 48 hours. I won’t be watching it again.
#Protip: Just read the book. Or queue up some The Prodigy. You can thank me later.