A re-imagining of Stephen King’s horror ‘masterpiece’ according to the trailer, the 2022 version of Firestarter isn’t any better than the 1984 version, and that wasn’t much cop in the first place. Paramount’s attempt to drain a few more dollars from the Stephen King book is released in theatres and at home on streaming channel Peacock the same day, a pandemic-era strategy that automatically dooms it to failure. So dust off your heat and fire-related puns, because it’s time to answer the burning questions about 2022’s Firestarter…
Firestarter is no masterpiece in any incarnation, but it’s certainly a recognisable IP from the 80’s period where pretty much everything King wrote was news. King had hit big with his original novel Carrie, which craftily matched a young girl’s discovery of her telekinetic powers to her own menstrual development. Firestarter has a similar theme and protagonist, but rather that destroying a high-school prom full of bullies in a fiery inferno, Charlie McGee (Ryan Kiera Armstrong) is taking revenge on The Shop, the government agency that killed her mother Vicky (Sydney Lemmon). That means a familiar ‘evade the authorities’ scenario with Charlie and dad Andy (Zac Efron) on the run from bounty hunter John Rainbird (Michael Greyeyes, presumably because an authentic Indian like George C Scott wasn’t available).
Firestarter was a fairly hefty 400+ page book, but Keith Thomas’s film barely musters 90 minutes of incident; by paring down the multiple plotlines of King’s writing, the bare bones that are left don’t offer any surprises, and it’s something of a shock when a minor character like Irv Manders (John Beasley) abruptly develops an interesting backstory which is immediately dropped. King was and is something of a whizz with character detail and a sense of community, but Firestarter 2022 generally avoids such notions in favour of streaming movie production values, poorish special effects and low-wattage performances. Even Kurtwood Smith, front and centre in the trailer, barely features here.
Yet there is a big plus here, and that’s the music. The 1984 version of Firestarter was directed by Mark L Lester in a fairly bland, anonymous way, but John Carpenter was originally mooted to helm the project. Working with his son Cody and regular collaborator Daniel Davies, Carpenter’s music for Firestarter soars when the rest of the mix remains inert; there’s not much point in a reboot, remake or rehash if there’s no new take on the material. And although there’s chat about the internet and wi-fi, the conspiracy theories and allusions to government experiments are less well developed here than they were 40 years ago; the bottom line is that this Firestarter is somewhat less than incendiary stuff. When you come to film King, you’d better not miss, and 2022’s Firestarter isn’t even close.