When Andy and Vicky signed up for an experimental drug project on their college campus, neither were thinking about the future. They weren’t wondering if they would meet someone nice and fall in love. They weren’t looking to the day they might want to raise a family together. They were probably thinking that this scientific study might just give them a chance to … get high. Then get paid for it. And those were both outcomes that these young students were in favor of.
Besides, who needs to worry? I mean, Trust the science, right?
Problem is, the experimental chemical compound that they were injected with in this little experiment, called “Lot 6,” wasn’t just some weekend party drug. It was designed to heighten an individual’s latent psychic abilities. And the experiment itself wasn’t just an easygoing, government-approved, cure-for-baldness FDA trial either. This was something much more nefarious, something set up by a darker government entity.
This science they never should have trusted.
Lot 6 literally drove some of the students in the group mad. Others, like Andy and Vickie, walked away with frightening and sometimes very painful new abilities. Luckily for them (and unluckily for others) the screaming suicides in their group quickly shut everything down. And that gave Andy and Vickie a chance to run, hand-in-hand, for the hills.
All these years later, they’re still running. Andy uses his ability, to “push” someone’s mental perceptions as a means of supporting himself and his wife. He’s a first-rate self-help guru. In fact, he’s good enough at tweaking someone’s brain that people will readily come running—to lose their smoking addictions or get a mental pick-me-up from depression—anywhere he goes. Andy can also keep everything off the grid as an all-cash business. No prying government eyes. It all works pretty well.
Of course, there are a couple problems. After years of pushing, Andy is dealing with some troubling aftereffects. His searing headaches and bleeding eyes suggest there’s something really bad going on in his own brain.
And then there’s Charlie.
Giving birth to a baby girl was pure joy. But when the proud parents found out that their sweet baby could set things in her crib on fire with an angry look, their complicated lives became really complicated.
Of course, darling Charlie would never purposely cause harm. Andy and Vickie have raised her in a loving home. They’ve taught her well. They’ve trained her up to deal with the “bad thing” whenever it lifts its temperature-raising head.
But let’s face facts, when you’re 12 and heading toward your teen years, tempers and emotions can flair.
And in Charlie’s case that flare can be quite literal.
Andy and Vickie are both loving and concerned parents. They may have differing ideas of how best to raise and protect Charlie (Vickie thinks Andy should lightly push Charlie’s emotions, for instance, while Andy is loathe to fiddle with his daughter’s brain). But they never waver from their love of her. And Charlie adores her parents, too. In fact, without their “power problem” they would be a picture-perfect family. Throughout the film, all of the family members put their own wellbeing on the line to protect one another.
Andy also tries to impress upon Charlie that she shouldn’t use her power to injure people. “When you hurt people, you don’t just hurt them. You hurt everyone around them. And you don’t come back from that.” (Later, though, Andy takes a less upright tack which betrays his earnest lesson.)
As insulation against the government surveillance, Andy and Vickie don’t allow Charlie to use the internet. Charlie wisely translates that restriction to her teacher by saying, “Too much screen time can cause health problems like insomnia.”
Though they’re not really spiritual, these characters superpowers, essentially, are at the core of the action here. Some people can mindread, and others can control things with their mind. Charlie has inherited her own flame-producing mental energy as well an amalgamation of her parents’ abilities.
Charlie asks her dad to pray at the gravesite of a dead cat.
Andy does pray for that cat, asking that “he or she or … they” might be happy in cat heaven.
We see Andy slip out of bed shirtless. And later a hitman type named Rainbird is shirtless, too. Vicky wears a low-cut top.
Though there’s nothing sexual about breastfeeding, a brief camera shot focuses closely on a small baby suckling at its mother’s breast.
Other than the movie’s main protagonists (and maybe a few others), Firestarter presents nearly everyone as being worthy of a fireball blast or hurtful mind twist. There are bully kids and bad–guy adults at every turn. And pain and death are unleashed from there. Lots of things, from scenery to people, burn in Charlie’s raging flames.
When a cat scratches her, for instance, Charlie lashes back with a splash of flame that leaves the cat alive but covered in raw burnt flesh. Andy points out that the cat’s torture is an example of why Charlie must curb her anger and not hurt others. Then he demands that his daughter put the animal out of its misery, which she does.
From then on, Charlie always makes sure to put those she attacks out of their misery in grisly, scorched-flesh ways … which wasn’t exactly the lesson her father was shooting for.
Charlie blasts through doors and plate glass windows and engulfs scores of screaming people with bursts of flame. The fiery strikes are not always consistent, though, for some reason. After a few seconds on fire, for instance, Vickie has large chunks of flesh seared off her arms (which we then see being patched back together). Another man is turned into a still-living pile of bubbling meat with a brief blast, and one woman is reduced to a small pile of smoldering char. On the other hand, someone is hit with a flamethrower blast that sends him hurtling across a large room, pinned to the wall by the blaze, and he gets up with what amounts to a slight sunburn. But that’s the rare exception.
People are killed by gunfire, too. The assassin Rainbird picks people off with bloody sniper-rifle headshots and point-blank pistol blasts. (Charlie is covered in spattered blood on one occasion thanks to one group of those kills.) We also see him lift a woman by the neck and strangle her, then hold Charlie with a large knife to her throat. A woman rips out her own eyes and drops them to the floor. The bleeding from Andy’s eyes increases over time from a single red teardrop to a small gush when he attempts to use his psychic push powers. Andy pushes several other pairs of people to kill each other with gun blasts.
A scientist suggests that Charlie may someday generate a nuclear blast with her power. And he demands that the government quickly terminate her.
There are five f-words and three or four s-words in the dialogue, along with uses of “h—” and “b–ch.” God’s name is misused twice (once in combination with “d–n”). Someone talks about chicken “turds.”
As mentioned above, we see an old VHS movie of college students being strapped to tables and injected with an experimental drug.
Andy and an older guy named Irv drink beer. Later, Irv is slightly drunk and stumbling, surrounded by empty bottles.
We see several different kids bully and pick on Charlie. Andy and Vickie worry about the government grabbing their daughter for its experiments and tests, and that’s exactly what the government agency intends to do. When Andy worries that Charlie’s destructive abilities would hurt her, she retorts: “Actually, it feels kinda good.” Andy promises to pay for a guy’s gas, then pushes him to see a one-dollar bill as a hundred dollar note.
Stephen King has stirred up plenty of story fodder over his lengthy writing career. And Hollywood studios keep coming back over and over to that deep stew pot for tales that they can, well, make a mess of.
Director Keith Thomas’ Firestarter is the latest example.
Firestarter, of course, originally splashed up on the big screen in the ’80s with a young Drew Barrymore in the lead. This newest version, frankly, reminds me more of a televison movie from that era—one that’s been sprinkled with nasty f-bombs and a makeup trunk full of lightly parboiled, bloody hamburger.
The film, its script, its visuals and direction; the whole package is anything but fiery. It barely makes it up to room temperature. The only saving grace here is the young lead, Ryan Kiera Armstrong. You can see that she’s working hard to put some heat behind her tepid and many times eye-rollingly bad dialogue.
Someday, she’ll look back on her film career and say: “Oh yeah, I did that one, too.”
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.