The Second Adaptation of Stephen King’s Telekinetic Firestarter (2022) Burns Out Quickly
First Non-Festival Release: May 12, 2022 (Theatrical Release)
Director: Keith Thomas
Writer: Stephen King, Scott Teems
Runtime: 94 Minutes
Starring: Zac Efron, Ryan Kiera Armstrong, Sydney Lemmon
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
After partaking in an experimental study in college, Andy (Zac Efron) and Vicky (Sydney Lemmon) develop psychic powers. When they give birth to Charlie (Ryan Kiera Armstrong), her newfound powers spark the interests of the organization that ran the initial study. Since then, the family has been on the run. When Charlie, as an elemtary schooler, accidentally erupts after consistent taunting by school bullies she puts the family back on the radar of the secret organization that put on the original trials. Head of the DSI, Captain Hollister (Gloria Reuben) enlists the help of another former patient, Rainbird (Michael Greyeyes), to track down Charlie and bring her to their facility so they can use her for their sinister intentions.
Failing to improve or build on a single aspect of the good but not great 1984 adaptation, Firestarter sizzles in silence.
It is always difficult to divorce original or preceding films from an analysis of the remake or continuation. Unfortunately for Firestarter, nearly every aspect of the film loses out to the original. This isn’t a nostalgic take as the 1984 version is fun but forgettable at best attempt to cash in on Stephen King’s popularity at the time. It’s almost impressive that 38 years later that the team behind this production couldn’t outstrip the original’s story, pacing, cast, special effects, and tone.
Some decisions made in changing up the script are not bad in of themselves. Separating Charlie and Andy, adding some dimension to Irv and Essi, fleshing out the McGee’s time together before they go on the run again are all examples of ideas that had the potential to add depth to the film. These moments, and more, are taken in the completely wrong direction failing to justify the changes made. In each case, they end up adding nothing to the narrative and breeze by without affecting much of the film. Abysmally uneven in pacing and tone, the film rushes to its conclusion before establishing what it wants to be.
Due to the uneven and rapid-fire pacing of the film, most everyone is underdeveloped in every way. Charlie gets little time to interact with much of anyone aside from her father. Her transformation from scared girl to tough-as-nails fire warrior lacks direction and sense. While the montage of Charlie learning on her own helps make her assault on the DSI headquarters slightly more realistic, the fact that it appears to happen in a day seems suspect.
Andy’s character arc lacks much thought as well. Once he is separated from Charlie, he may as well disappear from the film. Beyond trading down for a hilariously constructed sacrifice, this version of the novel gives no reason to believe that anything is plausible or earned the moment that Charlie leaves that farm. Had the film lengthened its third act to include more character development for both surviving McGees, Firestarter might not have fizzled out so quietly.
While Firestarter boasts many weak points, none are as egregious as the lifeless performances delivered by the cast. Zac Efron and Ryan Kiera Armstrong give the best performances of the crew; unfortunately, their father-daughter relationship does not read as authentic. It’s very clear that they have little chemistry despite each giving individually fine performances. The rest of the cast struggle to breathe life into the barren script. Gloria Reuben, Sydney Lemmon, and John Beasley are betrayed the most by the writers, given some of the worst dialogue in a wide release film in recent memory. Their efforts only go so far to make their lines anything but unintentionally hilarious.
The production values do lead to a few wins for the film. John Carpenter’s score is a welcome component and bright light in the considerably weak film. Lively and perfectly placed, the soundtrack does a great job of evoking that nostalgia while embodying a new generation and take on the story. The aftereffects of Charlie’s infernos are well-done. Vicky’s burns evoke a prickly feeling of revulsion as the film has a nice understanding of burn wounds. It cannot go without saying that the fire effects themselves, however, are laughable. Every time Charlie is forced to make the angry child face mid-roar while wielding her pyrotechnic powers, the film dies a little bit more. Not only do they look unconvincing, but they also look cheap.
Given the original’s aggressiveness adequateness, 2022’s Firestarter is baffling if only for how hard the property is fumbled. Horrendous dialogue, strained performances, and disjointed pacing pours water on the already rushed plot development. Efron and Armstrong’s delivery only goes so far and saves so much before the film burns out in its misguided and underwhelming ending. The best and most memorable parts of the film come from unintentionally hilarious sequences that seem more fitting in a campier film, not one attempting a serious face. It may not be the worst film of the year, but Firestarter failing to elevate anything proves it to be a blazing disappointment in a year not wanting for explosive horror releases.