By Matthew Moorcroft
- Directed By Keith Thomas
- Starring Zac Efron, Ryan Kiera Armstrong, Sydney Lemmon, Michael Greyeyes
We live in a weird age of Stephen King resurgence where pretty much everything that he has adapted is either getting brought back for a do-over or some kind of continuation. And with the amount of work that King puts out on a yearly basis it’s hard not to see why – his work is a brand on itself, and to an extent can catch people’s eye simply by referring to his name on the poster of any project that looks even remotely spooky.
One of his earlier novels, Firestarter already received a decent enough adaptation in 1984 from Mark L. Lester (who took over the production after John Carpenter was unfournately kicked off the project due to The Thing‘s under-performance) but clearly with the recent boom in super-powered media this seemed like an obvious choice to bring back. Hell, you even got Carpenter to return, albeit as composer this time as opposed to the director who this time comes courtesy of The Vigil director Keith Thomas, taking over from Fatih Akin who by proxy took over from producer Akiva Goldsman. Clearly a sign of faith in the production process.
That being said, there is potential in revisiting this particular narrative. Firestarter, which while posing as the story of a pyrokinetic girl and her psychic father on the run from authorities, is also a story about inhumane government overreach, Cold War paranoia, and a twisted coming-of-age story in the vein of Carrie – all King staples that on paper sound like perfect spots for re-evaluation and re-examination. By modernizing, you can recontextualize. By bringing forward, we can look forward.
So it’s a shame that this new Firestarter is not only devoid of any interesting ideas, but it’s also shamefully (and embarrassingly) devoid of almost anything else. Bad direction is all over this thing as Thomas seems to forget that he’s directing a horror movie most of the time – the scares and chills he brought to his work on The Vigil are completely absent here, replaced by weak fire effects that are neither convincing enough nor gory and gnarly enough to really work. In fact, there is very little actual pyrokinesis in this, which could work if the film was interesting enough outside of that to back it up but the godawful pacing means the film limps along until it’s climax and then gives us 5 minutes worth of weak burn action before fizzling out in cinders almost immediately.
Both Zac Efron and newcomer Ryan Kiera Armstrong are committed here, but a poor script that bounces around in redundancy throughout most of it’s runtime doesn’t give them a whole lot to work with. Armstrong in particular has a good presence once the third act does eventually show up but it takes too long to get there. The baffling misuse Michael Greyeyes as John Rainbird also cannot be overstated, as while the more sympathetic angle to the character here is filled with potential to lean into it’s themes of scientific experimentation and exploitation, he gets very little to do. Ten lines of dialogue and a couple of dead police officers later he pretty much disappears from the narrative until the very end where the movie tries to sequel bait in the worst way imaginable.
If there is anything minimal to praise here, it’s all back to Carpenter, whose score with his son Cody Carpenter and Daniel Davies is wonderful. Synth infused, 80s goodness throughout it’s sound, and the main theme in particular sounds like Carpenter in his prime which is never a bad thing. If anything, their sound for the film deserved a better final product as the quality of it and overall tone never quite matches Thomas’ interpretation of the material, to the point where I’m wondering if Carpenter should have just directed this himself.
The final crime Firestarter commits though is that it’s ungodly boring and choppy to the point in incomprehensibility. What should have been, at least, a fun romp and at best a great horror film ends up one of the weakest King adaptations in quite a while and a significant black mark on everybody’s resume. A waste of time, this one is.