The ability to manipulate the world through thought is a tantalising proposition. Whether from the indolent desire to grab an object from another room, while you’re comfortable, or the potentially lifesaving benefits of being able to cause combustion at will. Yet outside the realms of medical science, those powers remain. It is not for a lack of trying though. In 1984, with films like The Shining still fresh in the mind, it was the turn of another Stephen King, about a family of reality-warping pyrokentics, who seek to keep their powers concealed in Firestarter.
We start in medias res with a man being pursued by unknown forces, accompanied by a four-year-old child. We soon learn that as a student, he volunteered for a government experimental program, which was where he fell in love, was given a mysterious formula, and now he and his family have supernatural mental powers. Escaping from the facility, puts, Andy and his similarly gifted daughter, Charlie, on the run, trying to keep their powers a secret all while The Shop tries to get their hands on the powers this family possesses.
Starting with an intro song that sounds the perfect mix between Spandau Ballet’s True and The Car’s Drive, does set the film up for a very early-80s thriller vibe. Speaking of Drive, Firestarter is the film that launched the talents of Drew Barrymore, and she does well considering her age and the demanding challenge of the role. Accompanying her is Martin Sheen returning from Stephen King’s recent film Dead Zone is a welcomed treat. As well as George C. Scott, as John, who possesses the subtly menacing quality that you would want from a manipulative assassin. Even Heather Locklear appears a full decade before her roles on Melrose Place and Spin City, doing a lot to help round off this promising film.
The root of the action of Firestarter is its three distinct parts, you’ve got the governmental Scanners-inspired action throughout. Along with the scenes with Charlie in the agency and the relationships with the likes of the conniving fixer, John Rainbird and the agency director Hollister. Also, the quieter periods, especially at the start, such as where we see how Andy fell in love during the early days of the experiment. The aforementioned soundtrack being crafted by the German electronic pioneers of Tangerine Dream also helps Firestarter, and when the film does live up to its name, it can be quite a spectacle to behold the dated, but enjoyable effects.
The core kernel of Firestarter is not that complex, yet the film ends up being greater than the sum of its very interesting parts. A government-thriller, with a hefty dose of mystical powers, makes for a very fine debut for Drew Barrymore. Fans of retro thrillers might get a kick out of this film, especially if they slept upon it the first time around. Less spooky, but a lot more action-oriented than the other adaptations of King’s work, Firestarter certainly ignites the flame of something that could be brilliant.
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