"Firestarter" stars Zac Efron, Ryan Kiera Armstrong, Sydney Lemmon, Kurtwood Smith, John Beasley, Michael Greyeyes, and Gloria Reuben. Released on May 13, 2022, the film has a father protecting his daughter, who has pyrokinesis.
The film is directed by Keith Thomas, who also directed "The Vigil". It is a reboot of the 1984 film of the same name, which is based on the 1980 novel by Stephen King. Last weekend, the summer movie season started on the right foot with a mind-bending superhero traveling through the multiverse. While it wasn't as most Marvel fans have anticipated, it offers enough to get many people back to the cineplexes after two years of isolation. Now, we have another type of super-powered being looking to set the summer box office on fire, literally. This latest horror film is another adaptation of Stephen King's novel, centering on a young girl setting people on fire with her mind. The stuff this guy came up with in his books never fails to amaze me. It is also another addition to a long line of movie adaptations that's been unsurprisingly hit-and-miss throughout the years. While some of them are stellar pieces of work like "The Shawshank Redemption", "The Green Mile", and 2017's "It", others like "The Dark Tower" and "Cell" remind us that some stories are better off as just books. So, where does this "reboot" land regarding this category? Let's find out.
The story centers on Andy McGee (Efron), a man who participated in a mysterious experiment with Vicky Tomlinson (Lemmon). The experiment resulted in them gaining telepathic abilities. Vicky can read people's minds, while Andy can control their minds despite it making his eyes bleed. After they married each other years later, they birthed a daughter named Charlie (Armstrong), who developed the power to control fire. Unfortunately, this catches the attention of the secret government known as "The Shop", which seeks to capture her and use her powers for nefarious purposes. As a result, Andy attempts to protect Charlie from the government while teaching her how to defend herself with her dangerous ability.
I watched the 1984 version of "Firestarter" before heading into the reboot to get a clear idea of what I was about to expect. Long story short, it was a fine adaptation. It's a bit overlong, and some of the scenes weren't very exciting, but the visuals and the young Drew Barrymore were enough for me to give it a pass. The reboot, which horror expert Jason Blum produces, looks to correct the original's flaws for a couple of reasons. You have a filmmaker who previously worked with Blum in the critically-acclaimed horror movie "The Vigil", and it is shorter than the 1984 film, which was close to two hours. But, of course, just because it has those elements doesn't automatically make the movie good. It all comes down to the execution of its plot.
The film follows the same storyline as the source material and the 1984 adaptation. A girl sets people on fire, and a secret organization wants to harness her powers. That's it. It's a basic premise that leads to some frightening imagery and the dangers of harnessing unexplainable things. However, it did offer some differences to stand apart from the previous adaptation. The 1984 version started with Andy and Charlie already running from "The Shop" and some flashbacks showcasing the events beforehand. For the reboot, they decided to take a traditional approach to its narrative by building up the mystery of the characters' unique abilities. I found this direction a bit better than the 1984 version because it has the advantage of developing the characters more, mainly Andy and Charlie, and emphasizing its thematic depth regarding people with differences. It would've made the entire movie a decent improvement over the original, but sadly, it turned out to be the complete opposite.
There's some potential for the movie to be good, especially when considering the director's previous film, Jason Blum's involvement, and the Carpenters, who provided the score with Daniel Davies. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case, with their efforts being wasted on a highly generic and poorly-handled adaptation that constantly fizzles without a single spark. The story does showcase the McGees a bit more before they're forced to run from home, which is an acceptable approach, in my opinion. However, the execution for it was as bland as my leftover seafood Alfredo, and the easy-to-spot tropes that overshadowed it didn't help much either. I'm not just talking about the horror tropes, ladies and gentlemen. I'm talking about the cliches you would see in a superhero movie. You read that right. They made "Firestarter" into a superhero film instead of a horror movie. A terrible superhero movie, to be exact.
The reboot not only used every trope in the book, but it also handled them in a way that resulted in it being ridiculously underwhelming and disappointingly tame. Scott Teems, who wrote "Halloween Kills" with Danny McBride and David Gordon Green, gave me a script that fails to take advantage of its ideas and frightening content and provide any exciting characters. The cast did what they could to deliver fine performances, including Zac Efron as Andy and Ryan Armstrong as Charlie. Sadly, they're not enough to save their bland and underdeveloped characters from immediately burning to a crisp. I would also say that Teems's screenplay is infamous for its frustrating finale. I won't say how it ended in case you wanted to see it for yourself, but I will say it's one of the worse endings I've seen. The choices some characters made for the finale and its lack of tension were enough to make me groan in disbelief and frustration.
Now, when I say that the film was underwhelming, I mean that it's not that scary. "Firestarter" is known for showcasing some disturbing depictions of people being set on fire. It is a terrifying sight that might leave you feeling uneasy, especially when the fire is caused by a young girl. The 2022 reboot retains that representation, but the direction towards it lacked the wild impact it was going for, resulting in these scenes being forgettable and grimly tedious. There were also a couple of scenes where the editing looked a bit clumsy. It's almost like they shortened specific sequences to fit its 94-minute runtime, resulting in it being a rushed mess.
Overall, the 2022 adaptation of "Firestarter" is a wasted opportunity that immediately bursts into flames, but not in a good way. Despite the talent on board, the film is a disdainful and trope-heavy assault on what Stephen King delivered in his novel more than 40 years ago. From its weak storytelling and boring characters to its insulting conclusion, the film gains the reputation of being surprisingly worse than the 1984 version. It definitely deserves to be burned for its crime against King's work. This should've been something that'll set the world on fire, but instead, it only made a tiny fizzle and nothing else.