As someone who has a weird affinity for Stephen King adaptations that irritate Stephen King, I actually didn’t mind “Firestarter.” The song by The Prodigy. The new version of his 40-year-old book, on the other hand, is far less groovy than that EDM track from 1996. That said, all the incendiary critical venom on “Firestarter 2022” is a bit much, considering that the source material was “what if a kid could start fires with her mind” and the first movie is maybe why Drew Barrymore has a current talk show.
King wrote the novel back when government conspiracy theories were fun things sci-fi/horror writers used for plot devices and not a major party’s political platform. The new flick boils the book down to a back cover blurb. Andy (Zac Efron) and his wife, Sydney (Vicky), got superpowers after being experimented on. Their kid, Charlie (Ryan Kiera Armstrong), can do things that the film’s title makes pretty obvious. After years on the run, the family blips the radar of the evil shadowy government organization that birthed them. Cue more running, the starting of more fires, and more gross Native American stuff from King. They’re people, Steve, not magic plot devices.
The worst thing about “Firestarter 2022” is that it doesn’t use The Prodigy song. The second worst thing is that Zac Efron does the wrong kind of trying. Operating in this space, a feisty sci-fi horror B-movie, takes a bit more situational awareness. Efron is too sincere, too purposeful, too goateed. It doesn’t help that the center of the movie is a 12-year-old kid. Her cinematic daddy couldn’t get the tone right, how is an adolescent supposed to strike the right note?
The third worst thing is the firestarting effect, which you would think someone would have gotten dialed in before saying “let’s make a movie about starting fires.” It’s hard to describe with words, easier to do with hand gestures and noises, but the gimmick amounts to wiggly invisible heat lines in the center circled by flames maybe stolen from a YouTube “yuletide log” video. The fourth worst thing is that the dad from “That 70s Show” perfectly delivers a line about Charlie being able to mentally launch a nuclear bomb and nobody else used it as the metronome by which to calibrate their performances.
Here’s what nobody else will tell you: “Firestarter 2022” is almost a lot of fun. The weird F bombs, the strange jaunts into full-on horror, the way the film is unafraid to actually use the “superhero” word, the fact that it sort of exposes “Stranger Things,” all of that is great. The low production value and brief running time aren’t even dealbreakers! They actually kinda add to the campy comfort. Were it not for those four worst things, I could have seen my way to twisting King’s undies with a rave review (as though he reads me). Instead, I will provide the smallest of wedgies. I kinda thought it was okay. Take that, Stevie.
Grade = C+
Other Critical Voices to Consider
Kristy Puchko at Mashable says “It feels like a movie you might throw on while fiddling on your phone or folding the laundry. For that it’s fine. But it could have been more.”
Kate Sánchez at But Why Tho? says “the biggest piece that stands to be critiqued is the exposition choices made. While some things are explained in detail to help build out the world that the film is taking place in, other elements are left in the cold.”
Travis Hopson at Punch Drunk Critics says “As far as King adaptations go, this is garbage. But at least it’s hot garbage.”