Quick summary: Andy (Zac Efron), and Vicky (Sydney Lemmon) are a couple who have powers given to them by their participation in an experimental government trial. Together they have a child, Charlie (Ryan Kiera Armstrong), who has the ability to set fires with her mind. When Charlie finds her powers harder and harder to control, her parents try to hide her from government officials who wish to use her as a weapon.
I went into this with trepidation. I was excited by the trailer, but I felt that the actual film would let me down. It matched expectations, by which I mean it let me down.
There’s nothing inherently terrible about it. It’s just incredibly dull. Part of it is that there doesn’t seem to be any passion involved in making it. There doesn’t seem to be a reason for this to be remade besides “we could”. It’s reminiscent of The Omen remake from 2006. Keith Thomas only has only directed one feature-length film before (The Vigil), and his inexperience shines through here, where there’s no sense of a continuous style. His visual style really doesn’t mesh well with the music. John Carpenter’s score is very synth-heavy and almost future-retro, but the visuals are just pedestrian. It’s like the music is neon, and the visuals are fire.
The blame isn’t all his though, the script is also quite weak. Some reviews have picked up on this, and how the writer was also responsible for Halloween Kills. Personal opinion, I absolutely loved that film, because it did something different and focused on the effect on the wider town. But this is lacking what I enjoyed about that. A lot of the background characters are there for plot purposes. The childhood bullies, in particular, walk the line between being unbearably cruel to the point the teachers would pull them up on it, or not really being bullies at all, just saying “hey, you’re weird”. The adults aren’t much better, almost all of them just being walking cliches. It’s a shame as the performances are pretty solid without. Zac Efron has matured into someone who is surely due a role which gives him a chance to get award nominations. Essentially, give him the roles that you would have given DiCaprio 15 years ago. Ryan Kiera Armstrong has to carry a lot of this on her back, and considering she’s only 12 years old she does an amazing job. She probably gives the best performance in this, my only criticism of this is that she reminds me of McKenna Grace, which makes me disappointed it wasn’t her in this (although that wouldn’t have improved the film tbh).
There are some weird choices in the script. I will say it’s not all bad though, a scene where they meet an older gentleman and he gives them shelter for the night is what this film should have been more like: good character work, plus it showcases the paranoia that the general public would have towards her if they found out, so highlights exactly WHY the family have been in hiding for so long. It showcases a world bigger than these characters, and for a brief moment, everything feels real. It also has genuine emotion. Now I’ve talked about the good, onto the bad; the opening scene is Charlie as a baby, setting her bedroom alight. It’s not that exciting an opening. It’s just there to demonstrate her powers, which means that there’s no waiting for it to happen because we’ve already seen it. It would be like if Godzilla opened with a full-grown Godzilla destroying a city, a waste of what we’re there for. Now I know really we’re not there for a small fire, we’re there for a large “BURN EVERYTHING” roaring rampage of vengeance, but that’s in the trailer. So really you’ve got nothing to look forward to while watching this.
What makes the opening more baffling is if you cut that section out, it would have one of the strongest opening sections of the year. The need for a “small scene before the credits” have never harmed a film as much as it does here. If this opened with the credits, it would be a much stronger movie. Not just because it would cut out an unneeded scene, but also because the opening credits are great. They’re video recordings of the parents volunteering for medical experiments. Just short recordings that look dated. It’s a great way to set the film up, and the characters. It would make it seem like the parents are fully-fledged characters instead of the background ones they seem now.
Of course, there is always a possibility that was a decision made in the edit. Which is how I’m going to clumsily segue into talking about one of the worst edits I’ve seen. At least, I think it’s an edit, it’s either that or an atrocious line delivery. There’s a moment where it seems like Sydney Lemmon’s character stops mid-sentence. Not “trails off as she loses her train of thought”, she gets halfway through a sentence and then just stops talking. It’s just as the camera cuts away too, so even if it was a bad delivery, editing on that moment just highlights it. A bit like in Killer Kate when the music stopped at the exact point the characters stopped talking just highlighted the silence and made me think the version I was watching was broken. An editor’s job should be to hide those issues, not highlight them.
There’s just a sense that nobody cares about. The director already said there have been discussions of it being a franchise, either in a sequel, prequel, or spin-off. So he’s not thinking “No, I didn’t tell you enough, there are all these things in this cinematic universe that I want to explore” otherwise he’d know how he wants to franchise it. The studio just wants to franchise it for the sake of franchising it.
It’s a summary of how the whole thing feels, nobody knows why they’re doing what they’re doing, and what they’re doing isn’t that great.