Here’s the thing with making adaptations of Stephen King’s written works: there’re so many that haven’t been made yet! King is still at his apex of churning out quality genre content regularly, and to this day, he continues to write truly chilling stories that are always in need of adaptation. While I appreciate the idea of remaking or readapting a work of King put to film before that might not have been particularly good, I’d much rather see someone take a swing at a work that is making its film debut, whether it’s Revival, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, or even The Institute, there’re still plenty of fish to go around. However, if we are in the inevitable business of approaching damaged goods from the King canon, Firestarter isn’t the absolute worst place to start. While the 1984 film lives in people’s memory for Drew Barrymore’s lead performance, the truth of the matter is that the film…well…it’s just not very good. This isn’t entirely the fault of the film itself though, as Firestarter, while published during King’s meteoric rise into notoriety, isn’t his best work from a sheer source material standpoint. It’s often a narratively confused novel that’s far more conventional than a book during King’s prime should be, and it come so soon off the heels of Carrie, another King novel regarding a minor with violent telekinetic abilities, it just doesn’t always measure up. Still, there is a blockbuster scale to the story that always felt shorted by its sub-par film adaptation. It’s not entirely confusing why someone would want to take a crack at improving upon it.
I just wish that someone actually had done that, because this updated Firestarter feels even less competent than its initial incarnation (and that’s not saying much).
Andy (Zac Efron) and Vicky McGee (Sydney Lemmon), former test subjects for “The Shop,” a mysterious organization testing the effectiveness of an experimental drug called LOT-6, and parents to Charlie (Ryan Kiera Armstrong), live a life on the run from the organization after they begin to exhibit psychic abilities from their times as test subjects. They live their lives in abject anonymity until Charlie’s hereditary abilities begin to manifest at school through pyrokinesis, forcing them on the run. Desperate to keep their daughter safe, they must take whatever means necessary to keep The Shop at bay.
Does Firestarter sound unnecessarily convoluted? It’s because it is! The entirety of the setup of the film’s lore involving that of The Shop is shoved into a very short opening credits sequence, and never once does the film feel the need to expound upon the true power of this “great threat” hunting our protagonists down. Their intentions are never known, their power seems minimal, and they’re simply not a particularly imposing force to the audience. It leaves this version of Firestarter feeling completely thrill-free as the stakes are simply never spelled out to the audience the way it more successfully is in its source material and even in its original film adaptation. It’s hastily slapped together with a screenplay that gives us no reason to root for the protagonists and, conversely, no reason to fear the antagonists. I simply kept asking why I should care at all?
While we could nitpick the pacing or the dialogue or the character motivations of an inferior screenplay to a lesser King novel, it feels rather useless when Firestarter has no idea what it truly wants to be. It’s not scary enough to be a true horror film and it’s not big enough to feel like a blockbuster action film. There’s certainly nowhere near enough character development or world-building to have the film succeed at being a successful drama, and it’s not even bad enough to be unintentionally funny. It finds itself spinning so many plates at once that all of them come crashing down quickly from failing to actually focus on being any of these things successfully.
I will absolutely concede that the film’s musical score from John Carpenter, Cody Carpenter, and Daniel Davies is far and away the best thing that this film has to offer. It encapsulates that perfect balance between retro synth-heavy melodies with an orchestral backing that made their work on previous Blumhouse projects Halloween and Halloween Kills so successful. Coming off of Tangerine Dream’s excellent score to the 1984 original, I’m starting to think the only thing of value the Firestarter films have to offer are their scores, which are far more worthy than the films they back. Luckily, you can listen to both on streaming without ever having to watch either film (a win/win!).
There’s really nothing that meshes well in Firestarter, and it even more unfortunately fails at being even marginally better than its previous incarnation. It doesn’t help that the source material is lesser-King to begin with, but that still doesn’t excuse the lazy screenplay, weak effects work, total miscasting of all actors (particularly Efron, but we still love him nonetheless), ugly cinematography (from a typically reliable Karim Hussain), and just a general lack of passion behind the project. It doesn’t feel like anyone had any fun putting this project together, and in turn, we as audience members have no fun watching it. If you want a film this weekend about children with telekinetic powers, The Innocents is a far more successful outing. I can’t deny that there *might* be a good Firestarter film out there in the abyss somewhere, but neither one of the ones we currently have are that film.
Pray for Salem’s Lot.
In theaters and streaming only on Peacock May 13th, 2022.
Final Score: 1.5 out of 5.