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Film Review: Firestarter

Director:      Keith Thomas

Cast:    Zac Efron, Ryan Kiera Armstrong, Sydney Lemmon, Kurtwood Smith, John Beasley, Michael Greyeyes, Gloria Reuben, Tina Jung, Lanette Ware

Rating:       MA

Running Time:       94

Australian Distributor:      Universal Pictures Australia and streamed through Peacock


Firestarter is an uninspired sci-fi/thriller based on a 1980 Stephen King book (previously made into a movie in 1984). It tells the story of a young girl with pyrokinesis, i.e. the ability to use her mind to start fires. Characters are killed, and you can expect to see guns/shooting, blood spurts, characters being set on fire and burned, charred skin, etc. 

Vicky (Sydney Lemmon) and Andy McGee (Zac Efron) once participated in a clinical trial for a mysterious drug and came away with strange powers; Vicky won’t use hers, but Andy has “the push” that can create suggestions in people’s minds, even though using it comes with a price. Their child, Charlie (Ryan Kiera Armstrong), was born with the power to create fire. As she gets older, the power becomes harder to control. She blows out a bathroom stall at school and accidentally sets her mother on fire. Once aware of Charlie’s powers, Captain Hollister (Gloria Reuben) sends in a bounty hunter named Rainbird (Michael Greyeyes) to capture Charlie and bring her in. So Andy and Charlie go on the run as she attempts to learn and control her powers. But a showdown is inevitable.

This cheap-looking adaptation of Stephen King’s 1980 novel just goes through the motions, failing to deliver any thrills or scares and feeling utterly pointless. From its twitchy, “decaying video” opening titles to its bleary, blobby digital gore effects, everything about Firestarter is numbingly familiar. The original 1984 movie (starring Drew Barrymore and George C. Scott) isn’t exactly remembered as a high point of King adaptations, and it should have been ripe for reinterpretation. And director Keith Thomas, whose spookily atmospheric The Vigil relied on strong character development and strange storytelling, was a great choice for the job. What went wrong is anyone’s guess.

Perhaps too many corners were cut. Attempts to flesh the characters out simply come across as lazy exposition and the clunky camerawork seems designed to hide the sub-par effects. On the plus side, the movie has a fun music score by none other than John Carpenter, his son Cody Carpenter, and collaborator Daniel A. Davies. And star Efron — many of whose previous performances can be kindly described as “vacant” — has finally learned to fit in, appearing to actually interact with others. But those two things aside, Firestarter is far too soggy to make any kind of spark.


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