A young girl tries to understand how she mysteriously gained the power to set things on fire with her mind.
Have you heard of “Firestarter”? The movies and/or the Stephen King novel, not the song from The Prodigy, though that is a killer track.
If you answer, “No, and why are you in my house?”, then rush out and watch the newest version from 2022, and I’ll just wipe my prints clean while you’re out.
If your response tended towards “I am well versed in the original Mark Lester-directed film, but why do you have all the yogurt cups from the fridge?”, then you may proceed to the 2022 version with your guard up but be ready to shriek, “They are ruining my childhood!” if that’s how you swing. And these aren’t the yogurt cups you’re looking for.
If you tell me that you own everything Stephen King has ever written and you think he is one of the greatest humans on the planet – umm, just take a seat over there in the isolation section, and no film adaptations of King’s works for you. We’ll send for you. Eventually.
“Firestarter” (2022) tells the story of Andy and his young daughter Charlie as they flee operatives from a government shadow agency called the Department of Scientific Intelligence (DSI) or as it is better known – “The Shop”. Seems folks from this agency did some testing of a substance named Lot 6 on college students. Some had no reaction. Some freaked out completely. Some gained mental powers, like Andy and Vicky, who fall in love and get married.
After having a child, they discover their daughter not only has their powers, but she also has the ability to ignite things with her mind. The family goes into hiding for a few years. Unfortunately, children do not have the best emotional control. An incident at school alerts DSI, and an assassin sent for them kills the mom while father and daughter escape, using their abilities to evade their pursuer.
Taking the 2022 version on its own merits leaves the viewer with a well-intentioned film that deals with the parental dilemma of protecting your child versus letting them experience and learn from life while hoping your little moppet does not torch the kitchen because she hates asparagus. Then the film becomes a stage for debating the morality of harming others to protect yourself and your loved ones.
The concepts are intriguing and deserve more nuance than a 90-minute movie can muster, especially when the first third of the film is bogged down by resembling a Lifetime Channel TV movie lightly-suggested by the Stephen King novel that should guest star Judith Light and Valerie Bertinelli.
The end builds to what should be a rousing climax. Instead it gets replaced by an odd bit of moral mathematics that hints at redemption and damnation for those who survive. While the new resolution is interesting and a bit unexpected, it leaves the viewer feeling much like prepping for a massive sneeze that fades just before giving you satisfaction and shredded sinuses.
Hopes for this film to be taken on its own merits are slim as many likely to check this out have seen the 1984 version of the tale. The older film cleaved closer to the novel for its structure and pacing. Plus, the Drew Barrymore-led movie has all of the action, explosions, fire effects, and wanton destruction film audiences crave while the 2022 remake skirts most of those elements.
Does that make the Mark Lester version better than this current work directed by Keith Thomas?
Mostly “Yes,” but with a valid attempt to defend the new release.
The 80’s version had a budget to support a larger cast with bigger parts for each, giving the audience plenty of characters seeking their own agendas so that most scenes, even mere conversations, are clashes of wills. The conflicts are constantly shifting, which boosts viewer engagement.
The 2022 edition may have invested heavily in getting Zac Efron as the primary star and wanted to give him ample screen time to justify the expense. They opted to cut the explosions and fiery eye candy for a cerebral spin. Any valid attempt to present a reasonable variation on a modern classic should be acknowledged even if it resorts to heartfelt lectures on moral responsibility and government overreach and corruption.
“Firestarter” (2022) is worth checking out by those who wonder what another writer might have done with same concept King used. Old-school fans of the novel and/or the 1984 film might appreciate the moral concepts as an interesting spin, but will probably be bored by the budget-effective, slower plot used here.
Final Note: There is a scene with a cat in the 2022 version that is both horrific and hilarious for all the wrong reasons. Truly the high/low point of this film, and worth giving a separate mention.