Firestarter, Another Stephen King Flop

Stephen King is considered one of if not the most popular horror novelist of all time. And yet, his screen adaptations have left much to be desired. I think it’s high time we admit that his ideas and flights of fancy simply don’t translate well to the big screen (or the small screen for that matter). As popular as the IT franchise, and as prolific as his name tends to be amongst Hollywood, the proof is in the pudding: the bare essence of his books are hokey, faux-scary riffs on magical realism. Firestarter is merely the latest example, a film that executes world-building so poorly that we as an audience are never privy to why exactly superpowers exist, and what exactly makes the dear old daughter of Zac Efron so special if there are dozens of such people running around. Characters bloviate about the “world’s first real superhero” and the idea her power could grow to become “nuclear,” but we never actually witness any of it. Besides, that “superhero” line is obvious pandering to the comic-book aficionado set. Efron must be the best actor with the worst agent working today, his talent far outstripping many of the projects in which he finds himself shirtless. Kurtwood Smith lights up the screen briefly as an elder scientist regretting what he did and wishing he could put the genie back in the bottle, but he’s egregiously underused. So is a Native American assassin hired by the corrupt powers-that-be to hunt down Little Firestarter and capture her father. He’s the best part of the film, in fact, a reluctant killer who’s willing to suffer for his sins. James Wan, Ari Aster, Robert Eggers, Jordan Peele, even Wes Craven; these are horror auteurs whose pictures render fear for the very reason that we believe. We believe in what frights and furious sights they’ve foisted upon us, and therefore we are afraid. Never mind that Firestarter is barely a horror film. Stephen King’s stories do not frighten me, and it is because I do not believe. A space clown planted by some vaguely magical nonsense? A pyrokinetic girl whose abilities were sourced by some vague cocktail of chemicals and genetics? It’s hot nonsense, King. And it shows when these stories are adapted to screen.

Grade: D+

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