For every great novel in Stephen King’s expansive body of work, there are two that are less-than-memorable. For every less-than-memorable book, there are a handful of really crappy movies and TV shows based on those books. Not all adaptations can be a Misery or a Shawshank Redemption, sometimes things end up closer to The Dark Tower or Maximum Overdrive on the spectrum of quality. Firestarter might not be a new benchmark for King-adjacent schlock, but it definitely tries its hardest to be.
As it was produced by Blumhouse Productions, a studio known for its low budgets and lack of interference in the artistic process, Firestarter was always going to be either a cult success or straight trash. As it turns out there’s simply not much in Firestarter that works.
The script is lazy and full of awkward dialogue that is far removed from anything anyone would ever say, supernatural elements aside. The acting is wooden and equally as unnatural, and try as it might, the movie just isn’t scary.
This is partly because of the premise (I’ve never read the novel, nor have I seen the original 1984 adaptation that starred a very young Drew Barrymore as the main character, but “girl who lights things on fire with her mind” doesn’t strike me as one of King’s scarier ideas) and partly because the evil and super-secret government agency that serves as the antagonist of the film seems to only have two very non-threatening employees up until the very last scene, robbing the proceedings of any tension as we are told but not shown that we should be worried for the hero characters.
The filmmakers behind Firestarter apparently wanted their movie to feel like a throwback to ‘80s horror cinema, if the text font and synth-heavy score by the legendary John Carpenter are any indication. And it does indeed feel like a throwback, just not the good kind.
Stylistic choices like this are fine (see Stranger Things for an example of retro for the sake of nostalgia done right), but when you combine them with tepid acting, poor special effects, and an awkward script, the result doesn’t make you feel like you’re watching a good movie from 2022 or 1980, but a made-for-TV bore that was designed to fill time between commercials (from 1980). Even Carpenter’s score is lackluster; when it’s not being dull it’s being a straight self-parody of his much better Halloween soundtrack.
When it comes down to it, the biggest knock against Firestarter is the fact that it’s downright boring. This was one of those movies where I was constantly checking the progress bar at the bottom of the screen to see how much time I had left before I could watch something else. There’s nothing in the plot that we haven’t seen hundreds of times before, and the ending further proves the maxim that Stephen King often has a hard time bringing his stories to a close.
And in honor of bad endings, this review is now over.