Amongst the pantheon of Stephen King adaptations, 1984’s Firestarter doesn’t have much staying power. Save for the neat image of Drew Barrymore throwing fireballs, there’s just not a whole lot memorable about it. King himself notably expressed disappointment in the film; a huge deal considering he publicly endorsed 2017’s dreadful The Dark Tower. So the prospect of a new adaptation from horror household name Blumhouse inspired some confidence that it would improve things. Those fears are indifferently stamped out by 2022’s Firestarter, a movie that makes the ’84 edition look like an expressionist masterpiece.
Firestarter has no idea what kind of a movie it wants to be. The opening scene indicates an attempt to reckon with the psychological horror of raising a child with pyrokinetic abilities. A montage immediately following this gives backstory to the experiments the parents endured, complete with a film grain heavy aesthetic and a thumper of a score brought to us by, amongst others, the legend John Carpenter. Both of these scenes work, and act as starting points for great flicks of their own. Director Keith Thomas chooses neither, settling instead for mind-numbing monotony.
I’m sure there’s a great story within Stephen King’s much-read novel. Its influence on pop culture, most recently Stranger Things, speaks for itself. Its story follows telepath Andy McGee (Zac Efron), who goes on the run from a secret government agency that gave him his power, dubbed “The Shop”. In tow is his daughter Charlie (Ryan Kiera Armstrong), who struggles to keep her own fire-based powers under control. Rather than employ modern technology to add new vibrancy to this story, Firestarter shambles like a zombie from cliche scene to cliche scene. Nothing new is gained, nothing exciting happens, you’re just running down a checklist.
Scene where Charlie struggles with her powers in school? Check. Scene where she goes too far? Check. Heartfelt moment between Andy and Charlie? Slow section of the movie where they take refuge at a farm? I could write this whole review out of recycled beats. Which wouldn’t be an issue if they made them feel immediate or fresh in some way. Keith Thomas doesn’t seem to be able to make anything worthwhile out of Scott Teems’ indifferent script. Thomas and Teems both come across as incredibly indifferent to making this movie, taking the paycheck and then moving on to bigger and better things.
Who sadly does try are some of the performers. Zac Efron as a father is a bit of a culture shock for those that grew up watching him as a teen sensation. No matter the shock, he takes the role very seriously and at least attempts to show some new shades of himself. As far as child actors go, you can do worse than Armstrong, and Kurtwood Smith shows up to add some gravitas to the picture. Certainly, the one actor trying to salvage this picture is Michael Greyeyes, who gives shades of inner conflict to his henchman character. They all signed up to be a part of a great adaptation, and they all got scammed.
One thing Firestarter could’ve done to redeem itself is to have some kind of brutal action to give us some cheap thrills. Something to make this enterprise worthwhile. The flaccid, brainlessly constructed sequences have nothing at all even remotely diverting. Which is a great way to describe Firestarter as a whole: not even remotely diverting. It’s a movie that exists, and that’s the most positive it’ll be written about from me. I watched the film, I’ll forget about it tomorrow, life and Stephen King adaptations move on. – James Preston Poole
Firestarter (2022) is available in theaters and on Peacock.