Directed by: Keith Thomas
Premise: An adaptation of Stephen King’s novel. A girl with pyrokinetic powers (Ryan Kiera Armstrong) is sheltered by her parents. A government agency enlists a hitman (Michael Greyeyes) to find her.
What Works: Young actor Ryan Kiera Armstrong is well cast in the lead role as Charlie, a girl with the power to set people and objects on fire with her mind. The story possesses an interesting moral ambiguity which Armstrong conveys in her performance. Charlie’s power is connected to her emotions which she has only so much control over and at times it’s unclear if Charlie is a hero or a villain. The filmmakers employ some interesting heat effects. Scenes of combustion are presaged by a subtle distortion that simulates the way heat refracts light.
What Doesn’t: Firestarter suffers from a lot of problems that cause it to be utterly unengaging. Most of the flaws are split between the storytelling and the characterization. The film lacks exposition. A montage fills us in on the backstory of Charlie’s parents and their relationship to a mysterious government agency. It’s not enough information and the world of Firestarter remains vague throughout the movie. We’re introduced to a devious government administrator played by Gloria Reuben who wants to capture Charlie. She’s set up as the villain but Reuben’s character doesn’t get enough screentime to make any sort of impression. She hires a hitman, played by Michael Greyeyes, to bring Charlie in but Greyeyes’ character has an agenda of his own. It’s unclear what that is or how all of these people relate to each other or what they want. No one is characterized in a meaningful way. Aside from Charlie, none of these people has a distinguishing character trait or motive. And they don’t behave like credible human beings. Early on one of the central characters is killed. This ought to be a big moment for the survivors but the death passes by without any further comment. Part of what’s interesting about Firestarter’s concept is the destructive power it places in a child and the future implications of her talents. The picture even acknowledges that, hinting that Charlie may one day be capable of manifesting a nuclear explosion, but the filmmakers do nothing with that idea. This movie plays like a collection of disconnected scenes that have been patched together. There’s nothing holding the story together and it is neither scary nor dramatically engaging.
Bottom Line: Firestarter is frustratingly inept. There are pieces of a potentially interesting picture here but they’ve been executed and assembled in the clumsiest way imaginable, resulting in a film that is incoherent.
Episode: #903 (May 29, 2022)