Stephen King’s original novel “Firestarter” was a rich story full of interesting characters and nail-biting terror and suspense. The same cannot be said about 2022’s updated “Firestarter”, a film that completely drains the life out of the author’s unique work.
Written by Scott Teems (who destroyed last year’s “Halloween Kills” with a script drenched in stupidity and preposterous dialogue) and directed by Keith Thomas, this new “Firestarter” is a lifeless “Cliff’s Notes” bastardization of King’s involving tale.
To be fair, the novels of Stephen King have proven difficult to translate. Only a select few have been successful.
Brian DePalma’s “Carrie” and David Cronenberg’s “The Dead Zone” are the two best examples of King adaptations that really understood their source material, fleshing out the author’s ideas on cinematic scales without losing the essence of their source material.
Tobe Hooper’s television miniseries “Salem’s Lot” is another great King adaptation. The running time alloted for a miniseries gave the filmmakers space to keep the multitude of characters held within the story and give them proper definition.
Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” was a great Horror film, but it can be argued whether or not it can be defined as a “successful” adaptation of the book. While the film is considered a classic amongst the Horror communities, Stephen King felt the filmmaker changed too much and destroyed his work.
The sad reality is that Hollywood decided to produce almost everything King wrote, slamming film after film into production with low budgets and even less care. Cinemas are lined with the corpses of many a failed Stephen King adaptation. As of 2022, there are far too many cinematic casualties to count and “Fireststarter” is the latest.
Andy and Vicky McGee (a completely emotionless Zac Efron and equally dull Sydney Lemmon) are on the run from “The Shop”, a secret government agency who exploit peoples’ psychic abilities. Both have the power to manipulate minds.
Their young daughter Charlie (Ryan Kiera Armstrong) has powers as well. The girl can make things burn.
Andy has learned to control his power while Charlie struggles to suppress hers. When she gets scared or angry, the fire comes. Being on the run and in hiding isn’t the best environment for a child with this condition.
The evil Captain Hollister (Gloria Reuben, completely wasted) is searching for the family since they disappeared from the facility. After Charlie unleashes her power at school, Hollister is alerted to the young girl’s whereabouts.
Rainbird (Michael Greyeyes, a fine actor wasted) is the Native American assassin sent by The Shop to retrieve the family, leading to a tragedy that sends Charlie and her father on the run.
“Firestarter” is a film that is flatline from the beginning to the end. The entire project feels lazy, as if the filmmakers weren’t fully invested in the material.
Karim Hussein’s camerawork is without visual flair. Everything is muted and gray. One would think a film about a girl who can set things ablaze would warrant a more vibrant color palette.
The performances are deadly dull, especially Zac Ephron, who delivers every line as if his Zanax has kicked in.
To take an imposing character actor such as Michael Greyeyes (so powerful in 2021’s “Wild Indian”) and rob him of his natural ability to exude a seductive danger, while playing an assassin(!), is unimaginable. In the book, the character has depth and layers of emotional baggage. In this version, Rainbird is nothing more than an underwritten plot device.
Ryan Kiera Armstrong is ultimately annoying as the title character. The actress is overly moody and when it comes time to let the fire roar, she screams and gives a phony look of supposed power. I dislike saying bad things about young actors, but Armstrong obviously had zero direction and even less motivation. The young actress comes across as if she is winging it.
Every single performance fades into the nothingness of the production.
The special effects fail to serve the story any better. While Blumehouse is known for keeping their budgets low, the FX work here is cheap looking, but if it were up to par, the filmmakers don’t set up any exciting moments to let the work of the technical crews shine.
If the film has one (somewhat) positive, it would be the moody score from John Carpenter (who almost directed the story back in the 80s) and his son Cody Carpenter and Daniel A. Davies, but even this is flawed.
Their score reshapes queues from their work on the current “Halloween” films, changing them only slightly. Listening to the score on CD, it works as an Ambient pleasure. In the film, it barely registers.
King’s book was adapted in 1984 by director Mark L. Lester. While not an awful film, it certainly is not good. The cast was solid (Drew Barrymore, Martin Sheen, George C. Scott) but the film failed to give them anything to work with. At the time, the author claimed this was the worst adaptation of his work. If he only knew.
Keith Thomas’s “Firestarter” lays there with nothing to keep its audience’s eyes on the screen.
An insult to Stephen King, the film is too short, too drab, too idle, and just plain boring.
Written by Scott Teems
Directed by Keith Thomas
Starring Ryan Kiera Armstrong, Zac Ephron, Gloria Rueben, Michael Greyeyes
R, 94 Minutes, Blumehouse Productions/ Universal Pictures