For more than a decade, Andy and Vicky have been constantly on the move to escape a shadowy federal agency that seeks to capture their daughter Charlie. Charlie has an extraordinary ability to pyrokinesis that the agency wants to use to create a weapon of mass destruction. Andy has taught his daughter to control the anger or pain that triggers her power. But Charlie is now 11 years old and is finding it increasingly difficult to control her emotions - and therefore the fire. When the agency discovers where she and her parents are staying, a mysterious agent is sent on a mission to track down the family and get Charlie. But the young girl does not intend to let herself be taken...
Stephen King and the cinema is certainly a very long story strewn with excellent surprises but also with recurrent disappointments. While his books are all read with an indisputable pleasure, often his film adaptations have difficulty to find intact all the strength of the story and to give life to memorable scenes of his books. Published in August 1980, the novel Firestarter (Charlie in French) dealt with the theme of telepathic powers, pyrokinesis and the struggle of a father and his mutant daughter on the run against an organization that used him and his wife to test a government product. The success of the book, which became one of the five bestsellers of the year in the United States, led to a film in 1984 with the same title, directed by Mark L. Lester and starring Drew Barrymore, as well as a mini-series in 2002, Firestarter: Rekindled. This new adaptation is produced by Blumhouse productions and directed by Keith Thomas who had marked our memories with his first film The Vigil (2019).
For those who have not read the book of Stephen King, Firestarter follows the main plot but makes several changes rather cleverly to manage to surprise the audience fans of this author. The opening credits introduce Charlie's parents, Andy (Zac Efron) and Vicky (Sydney Lemmon), and learn that they were used as guinea pigs by a government agency. Andy is a telepath and has not only passed on his gift to his daughter Charlie, but she has also developed a gift for pyrokinesis since childhood. Hunted by a secret federal agency that wants to use Charlie to create fire as a weapon of mass destruction. Andy taught his daughter to control her power, which is triggered when she is angry or afraid. However, at age 11, Charlie's ability to control her power diminishes and causes several accidents that send her and her father on the run after Vicky is killed by a mysterious agent (Michael Greyeyes) deployed to hunt down the family and take Charlie once and for all.
The approach of the screenwriter Scott Teems is both modelled on the horror films of the 80's (David Cronenberg's films come to mind) but also by a barely hidden way to make Charlie a mutant worthy of being in the X-men team. The result is a film without any real surprise that would have easily benefited from a less linear plot and more striking special effects. In the same way, certain themes such as being different from the other students in a school class or having to learn to control an increasingly imposing power could have given the film a greater emotional strength if they had been developed with greater care.
Firestarter is cruelly lacking in scope unlike other Blumhouse productions in the sense that Stephen King's book could have held the attention of an American Major as was the case with Andy Muschietti's excellent adaptation of It under Warner Bros. In this case, only three scenes really stand out and the slow pace of the film does not really help to find it totally captivating. However, the director remains faithful to the novel and allows the characters to have a real psychological dimension. The father-daughter duo played by Zac Efron and Ryan Kiera Armstrong works perfectly and the actor Michael Greyeyes plays a killer in the pay of this government agency who will have real doubts about his mission.
While some viewers will take a malicious pleasure in comparing the first adaptation with Drew Barrymore and this film, it is advisable to put them in their historical context and our preference will rather go to this new adaptation because despite its many weaknesses, the director Keith Thomas was able to capture the essence of this book and despite a different ending and some notable differences Firestarter easily fulfills its function of entertaining viewers and offering a decent adaptation of a work by our favorite writer, Stephen King.
Directed by Keith Thomas
Screenplay by Scott Teems
Based on Firestarter by Stephen King
Produced by Jason Blum, Akiva Goldsman
Starring Zac Efron, Ryan Kiera Armstrong, Sydney Lemmon, Kurtwood Smith, John Beasley, Michael Greyeyes, Gloria Reuben
Cinematography : Karim Hussain
Edited by Tim Alverson
Music by John Carpenter, Cody Carpenter, Daniel Davies
Production companies : Blumhouse Productions, Weed Road Pictures, BoulderLight Pictures, Angry Adam Productions
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release date : May 13, 2022 (United States), June 1, 2022 (France)
Running time : 94 minutes
Seen on May 13, 2022 at Gaumont Disney Village, Room 8, seat A18