'Firestarter' Fails to Ignite So Much as a Spark - Knotfest
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‘Firestarter’ Fails to Ignite So Much as a Spark

Posted by Nicolás Delgadillo in Culture on May 19, 2022

This new adaptation of the Stephen King novel is a dud without any heat

Firestarter is one of Stephen King’s earliest novels and perhaps the best example of his penchant for finding the horror within stories of children with supernatural abilities. Carrie White is terrorized by her mother and classmates and unleashes violent telekinetic fury when she finally snaps. Danny Torrance, also abused by a parent, possesses a gift that attracts the dangerous attention of spirits from beyond the grave.

Charlie McGee, the young girl at the center of Firestarter, has the destructive ability of pyrokinesis, the result of callous government experimentation. While there’s plenty of terror to be mined from mysterious government organizations going after a small child (Charlie is perhaps the biggest inspiration behind Eleven from Stranger Things), what’s truly scary about this particularly King story is the unpredictable nature of a kid being unable to control such tremendous power. An emotionally volatile child is hard enough (and often scary enough!) to deal with already, but what if that child also could also burn down the neighborhood anytime they got upset?

The 1980 novel was quick to receive a film adaptation only four years after being published, but that effort is widely regarded as a disappointment. So when a new attempt to bring Firestarter to both the big and small screen (the film is simultaneously in theaters and available to stream on Peacock) was announced, the general consensus was that it would probably at least be better than that 1984 version. Oh, how wrong we were. Firestarter 2022 is a dud – a flat, dull and sadly uninspired take on King’s work that is neither scary nor exciting.

Ryan Kiera Armstrong stars as Charlie McGee in ‘Firestarter’
Courtesy of Universal

It’s hard to know exactly what went wrong here. The film is produced by Blumhouse and directed by Keith Thomas, whose feature debut The Vigil is an excellent and genuinely frightening supernatural horror film with a rich atmosphere. He’s also set to direct an episode of the upcoming series Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities. The score comes from none other than John Carpenter along with his frequent collaborators Cody Carpenter and Daniel Davies, and they do at least manage to deliver on some strong pieces of music for a film that can’t seem to do them justice.

The screenplay comes from Scott Teems, a solid filmmaker in his own right who recently wrote the screenplay for Halloween Kills and has been picked to pen the scripts for upcoming entries in the Exorcist and Insidious franchises. Teems appears to be the weakest link in Firestarter. The film fails to explore any of its characters in an interesting way or any of King’s themes from the novel. In fact, it makes inexplicable changes to the events of the original story. While changes are to be expected and at times even warranted for adaptations of written work, the ones that this particular take on King’s goes with seem pointless and less than what was originally there.

Instead of opening with Charlie (Ryan Kiera Armstrong) and her father Andy (Zac Efron) on the run, the film begins with Charlie attending school. Her mother, Vicky (Sydney Lemmon) is still around, but both she and her husband have been keeping the fact that they’re in hiding a secret from their daughter. The couple were injected with supernatural abilities from a secret government experiment, which led to Charlie being born with a dangerous form of pyrokinesis. They’ve been avoiding the eyes of the government ever since.

Zac Efron stars as Andy McGee in ‘Firestarter’
Courtesy of Universal

So it’s a strange decision to have Charlie be enrolled in regular school, an environment with plenty of stressors and where the poor girl is mercilessly bullied every day. Naturally, the family’s cover is blown when Charlie blows up the girls’ bathroom after another kid smacks the back of her head with a dodgeball. An agency known as DSI goes after them and employs an assassin named John Rainbird (Michael Greyeyes), who received psychic abilities himself from the same experiments, to track and capture Charlie. He kills Vicky and after a brief chase captures Andy, leaving the young and inexperienced Charlie to fend for herself. 

In the book, Charlie is captured alongside her father, and much of the story takes place during their confinement in a secret government facility. Months go by and we’re given the space to really get into the heads of the trio of main characters. Firestarter 2022 does no such thing, leaving its cast to flounder alone with nothing but monotonous dialogue to deliver with little enthusiasm. The plot simply moves from point A to point B without having anything to say or provide anything interesting onscreen. 

Ryan Kiera Armstrong stars as Charlie McGee in ‘Firestarter’
Courtesy of Universal

Scenes appear washed out and even the multiple explosions and fire effects don’t provide much in the way of color or even any sense of heat. No part of the film attempts to portray Charlie’s uncontrollable power as appropriately terrifying, so the horror angle is null, as are the action / sci-fi elements of the story. It’s just a slog through and through, one that’s only further brought down by how cheap it all looks – more like a television pilot than a feature film from a major studio. Firestarter is easily one of the weaker King adaptations and is likely to kill off any further interest in what could be a compelling story about one ferocious little girl.

‘Firestarter’ is now playing in theaters and streaming on Peacock.


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