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Review: Stephen King's ‘Firestarter’ burns up big screen

“Firestarter” is the second movie adaptation of the novel of the same name by horror icon Stephen King. The science fiction movie is a remake of the 1984 film adaptation and stars Zac Efron and Ryan Kiera Armstrong in a horror picture about a girl with pyrotechnic abilities.

"Firestarter" (2022) movie poster
"Firestarter" is the second feature film adaption of Stephen King's best-selling novel of the same name about a girl who has the ability to start fires with her mind. The new horror movie is playing at the Lakes 12 Theatre in Baxter and the Sunset Cinema in Jenkins.
Frank Lee / Brainerd Dispatch
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BAXTER — Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, Stephen King’s “Firestarter” has been adapted for the big screen — again.

The new film stars “High School Musical” alum Zac Efron and relative newcomer Ryan Kiera Armstrong, who was in Marvel’s “Black Widow” and another King adaptation, “It Chapter Two.”

As the pint-sized pyro in “Firestarter,” she is front and center in the second feature film adaptation of the book about a little girl with anger issues and the firepower to back them up.

book burning.jpg
A book is on fire.
Contributed / Freddy Kearney via Unsplash.com

What makes the R-rated movie compelling — the premise, it seems, that the major motion picture is based on — is perhaps every parent’s deep-seated fear of an uncontrollable child.

The 90-minute movie doesn’t start off with a slow burn but rather with daddy issues — and a baby on fire — in a nightmarish opening scene that doesn’t hold back on the special effects.

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Moviegoers learn that young husband and wife Andy and Vicky McGee, played by Efron and Sydney Lemmon, respectively, are attempting to live off the grid because of their own powers.

A female kneels before a destructive fire.
A female kneels before a destructive fire.
Contributed / Catalin Pop via Unsplash.com

In a down-and-dirty quick intro as to how they acquired their own respective and superhuman abilities, the audience learns it was their participation in a college clinical trial of a new drug.

Their progeny Charlie McGee, played by Armstrong, turns out to be more powerful and dangerous than either of them, which makes her very desirable for a shady government unit.

Compelling is the tug-and-pull between Andy and Vicky as to how best to raise their daughter who can start fires and push things around simply with her mind in a world that can be hostile.

Frank Lee
Frank Lee

Learning to control one’s anger, how to get along with others, dealing with conflict and growing pains, and wanting to be accepted are just some of the underlying themes in the horror remake.

“She’s not a robot, Andy,” Vicky admonishes her husband. “She’s a little girl, with little girl emotions, which are wildly unpredictable.”

Just how “unpredictable” some government operatives intent on capturing her for their own nefarious purposes, to harness her destructive properties, are about to find out — the hard way.

“I don’t want to hurt anyone. … But it feels kind of good,” Charlie candidly — and frighteningly — reveals to her father after taking out some bad guys with her growing abilities with fire.

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The remake comes from Blumhouse Productions, which has had success with other horror films such as “The Invisible Man,” and the “Paranormal Activity” and “The Purge” franchises.

Perhaps the moviemakers thought in a cinematic world populated by Marvel superheroes (and villains) and mutants, the time was right to bring back to the big screen an antihero of sorts whose ends supposedly justify the means.

John Carpenter did the music for “Firestarter.” He was supposed to direct the original “Firestarter” but was replaced when his previous film, “The Thing,” failed at the box office in 1982. He would direct, however, another King adaptation, “Christine,” about a homicidal car.

Armstrong convincingly plays a 12-year-old girl coming to terms with her changing body and trying to find her way in the world with a doting but an understandably apprehensive father.

King’s 1980 bestseller about a child with pyrokinetic abilities was first made into a 1984 movie with Drew Barrymore after her breakout role in Steven Spielberg’s “E.T.: the Extra-Terrestrial.”

MORE MOVIE COLUMNS BY FRANK LEE:
The king of rock ‘n’ roll Elvis Presley makes a splashy, stylish return to the big screen in the self-titled drama “Elvis.” The Baz Luhrmann-directed film costars an obese and Svengali-like promoter played by Tom Hanks who swindles and works E.P., played by Austin Butler, to death.

Fans of King’s novel will definitely notice some creative liberties taken by the moviemakers in the new remake , and parts where it strays from the source material.

But enough of the DNA of the book remains in the feature film adaption that it should appeal to King’s acolytes and those who just want to spend a few hours frightened by a girl who is on fire.

As for any parent who has had a child throw a tantrum, or for anyone who has had to even take care of one, the prospect of a rage-filled, uncontrollable child can be, well, downright terrifying.

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FRANK LEE may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at frank.lee@brainerddispatch.com . Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/bdfilmforum .

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I cover arts and entertainment, and write feature stories, for the Brainerd Dispatch newspaper. As a professional journalist with years of experience, I have won awards for my fact-based reporting. And my articles have also appeared in other publications, including USA Today. 📰
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