Directed by: Keith Thomas
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Written by Patrick Hao
“Firestarter” is an inherently silly premise from a silly novel by Stephen King. The original 1984 adaptation starring Drew Barrymore, and heavyweights like Louise Fletcher, Martin Sheen, and George C. Scott, is a silly campy Dino DeLaurentis production whose legacy barely exists. This 2022 version of “Firestarter” makes the mistake of attempting to stray away from the inherent silliness of the premise of a child who can set fire to anyone and anything with her mind.
The film’s premise does not strain far from the source material. Zac Efron and Sydney Lemmon play Andy and Vicky McGee, a couple who gains telekinetic powers through government experimentation. They have an 11-year-old child, Charlie (Ryan Kiera Armstrong), who has gained pyrokinesis, and the ability to set things on fire with her mind, but has trouble controlling it as it only manifests when she has fluctuations in her emotions. This is exacerbated by the government, led by Captain Hollister (Gloria Reuben), and bounty hunter John Rainbird (the always great Michael Greyeyes) chasing the family to terminate Charlie out of fear her powers have become too great.
You can tell this was written during Stephen King’s prime drug years. The original novel came out during the height of government paranoia and the unveiling of government experiments like Project MK Ultra. The updated version tries to tie in present-day concerns of constant government surveillance, but both the original and new version is bogged down by the inherent silliness of it all.
The film directed by Keith Thomas is a drab affair. The overall color palette can be described as “Twilight” grey which really instills a sense of dourness to a film that should be fun. This is exacerbated by Zac Efron who has his serious, low dad voice, which does not come off naturally for someone who has had almost twenty years of playing a Himbo.
At least the 1984 adaptation knew what it was, buoyed by cheap effects and a big George C. Scott performance. Here, the fire effects and aftermath are almost too good. “Firestarter” is not where I want to live with the ramifications of pyrokinesis. This movie is probably more indebted to the recent trend of serious indie what-if real people had superpowers like “Fast Color,” than a B-film, which this should be. At least there is some value to being disposable fun rather than disposable seriousness.
If anything, the lasting legacy of “Firestarter” might be the score composed by the father-son duo of John and Cody Carpenter (yes – that John Carpenter) and Daniel Davies. They bring their signature synth score that adds to the overly serious nature of the film. As a separate entity, however, the soundtrack has already entered into my rotation of work music.
Hopefully “Firestarter” does not start a trend of overly serious remakes of 80’s Stephen King cheesiness. We do not need a serious “Christine” or “Children of the Corn,” though, maybe a serious “Maximum Overdrive” would be fun?
“Firestarter” is in wide theatrical release and streaming on Peacock.