DIRECTOR: Keith Thomas

CAST: Zac Efron, Ryan Kiera Armstrong, Sydney Lemmon, Kurtwood Smith, John Beasley, Michael Greyeyes, Gloria Reuben

RUNNING TIME: 94 mins

CERTIFICATE: 15

BASICALLY…: A father (Efron) tries to protect his pyrokinetic young daughter (Armstrong) from government forces…

NOW FOR THE REVIEW…

While not especially great, the first screen adaptation of Stephen King’s Firestarter from 1984, starring a pre-teen Drew Barrymore and George C. Scott as a Native American (erm…), is still fondly remembered by audiences for its wild special effects, scenery-chewing performances, a synth-heavy musical score by Tangerine Dream, and a closeness to the book which, despite not always being accurate, managed to capture the story’s manic spirit.

Now, imagine if all of that which made the movie even slightly memorable, was stripped away and replaced with a prototype script for a seven-years-too-late X-Men knock-off, and you have the latest version of Firestarter, which is bound to unite both general audiences and Stephen King purists in the common agreement that this movie is, indeed, pretty rubbish.

The basic plot revolves around a young girl named Charlie (Ryan Kiera Armstrong), who is born with the frightening ability to set things on fire with her mind. This is because her parents, Andy (Zac Efron) and Vicky (Sydney Lemmon), previously volunteered for scientific experiments back in college, which left them with telekinetic abilities including the power to control other people’s minds, and have since been in hiding with their pyrokinetic daughter. However, when a secretive government agency headed by Captain Hollister (Gloria Reuben) manages to track the family down, bounty hunter John Rainbird (Michael Greyeyes) is sent to capture them, prompting father and daughter to go on the run from the agency, which wants to harness Charlie’s powers for nefarious purposes.

Those expecting a more straightforward adaptation of Stephen King’s original book, however, would probably be better off revisiting the 1984 version, because this new one feels like it’s Firestarter in name only. Sure, there have been plenty of King adaptations that have taken strong liberties for the sake of the screen (the most famous example being Stanley Kubrick’s loose version of The Shining), but there is always at least something fresh and exciting added to many of them in order to justify the radical changes; there is absolutely none of that in Firestarter circa 2022, with the changes to the story adding very little, if anything at all, to the overall experience. The script, by Scott Teems (a co-writer on last year’s divisive slasher sequel Halloween Kills), fails to establish a meaningful structure that expands on ideas that King or even the previous adaptation introduced, replacing any sense of tension or intrigue with a staggeringly slow pace. Even at 94 minutes, the movie barely feels like it has started at all, which – especially if you already know the story going in, whether you’ve read the book or seen the other movie – leaves you befuddled and confused as to where we’re supposed to be in this half-hearted version of the tale.

Purists of Stephen King will really not like this movie for its decisions which drive it much further away from the source material, and neither will general audiences because there is an astonishingly low entertainment factor which even the 1984 version was able to offer in some capacity (sure, George C. Scott as a Native American doesn’t fly today, but the actor’s commitment is amusing, to say the least). Director Keith Thomas, of the much stronger horror movie The Vigil, approaches the film like it’s a particularly uneventful episode of The Walking Dead, complete with darkly-lit cinematography and choppy editing tricks to give the illusion that something interesting is actually happening. A lot of the acting is just as low-energy as Thomas’s direction, with actors like Zac Efron and Gloria Reuben delivering bland performances that can’t even compete with the much more lively turns of David Keith and Martin Sheen in the original (young Ryan Kiera Armstrong does fine as the titular Firestarter, as does Michael Greyeyes in much more ethnically appropriate casting as John Rainbird, but both are once again let down by a script that has no idea what to do with these characters).

Most of all, though, and especially for a film about a young girl who can throw fireballs at people – albeit, naff CG effects masquerading as fireballs – it’s incredibly dull to sit through, because nothing is sucking you in to the world, whether it’s the characters or the performances or even the way it’s filmed. The closest this film comes to having any sense of personality is the musical score, co-written by none other than horror legend John Carpenter (who, incidentally, was once lined up to direct the 1984 version) which, when listened to on its own without the bland visuals to accompany it, might actually make this movie have a point. Other than that, this is an exceptionally uninteresting adaptation that captures little of the original story’s spirit – or even much of the actual story – and needlessly reframes it as a formulaic X-Men knock-off that not even the actual X-Men film series would have been interested in following up on.

Again, if you want a version of Firestarter that actually does feel like a big-screen version of Firestarter, watch the 1984 movie instead of this one, because while it’s nowhere near the top of the list regarding great Stephen King adaptations, there is an admirable energy and tone to the storytelling, performances, and even the cheesy effects that makes it an entertaining watch. This, by stark contrast, is the Stephen King equivalent of Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four, where all the enjoyment has been ripped apart and replaced by a moodier, less inviting atmosphere that doesn’t even begin to do justice to the source material.

Again, though, John Carpenter’s musical score is good enough for it to barely avoid the incinerator.

SO, TO SUM UP…

Firestarter is an exceptionally dull attempt to remake both Stephen King’s original story and the cult favourite 1984 adaptation, which offer far more thrills and entertainment than this unfaithful, unenthusiastic and overall uninteresting version which fails to justify its existence to either King purists or general audiences wanting something enjoyable to watch.

 

Firestarter is now showing in cinemas nationwide – click here to find a screening near you!

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