Does the Latest ‘Firestarter’ Light a Fire? Let’s Find Out!

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Firestarter 2022 (CREDIT: Ken Woroner/Universal Pictures)

Starring: Ryan Kiera Armstrong, Zac Efron, Sydney Lemmon, Kurtwood Smith, John Beasley, Michael Greyeyes, Gloria Reuben

Director: Keith Thomas

Running Time: 94 Minutes

Rating: R for Bloody Eyes and Third Degree Burns

Release Date: May 13, 2022 (Theaters and Peacock)

If you’re in the mood for a movie but every version of yourself has already seen Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, maybe you’re looking to try something new. Perhaps, maybe, quite possibly, you’re considering the latest version of Firestarter, based on the 1980 Stephen King novel, which was previously adapted in 1984 with a young Drew Barrymore as the titular pyrokinetic. Now newcomer Ryan Kiera Armstrong is the one summoning the flames, and you might be wondering just how combustible she is. It is Friday the 13th, after all. And as it is also 2022, you have options for where to get spooked. So join me as we journey to determine if you should check out Firestarter on the big screen, stream it on Peacock, or do something else entirely.

First of all, I’ll point out that I watched this movie at home on my couch via a pre-release screener link. That’s not my ideal scenario, as I always prefer to see movies in the theater no matter what movie it is, but it did help clarify what I was missing out on. In particular, there’s the sense of being enveloped, and that’s especially important in this case, because the best thing about this movie is its original score from John Carpenter along with his son Cody and frequent collaborator Daniel Davies. Carpenter may have stopped directing, but he can still deliver those classic synth vibes to transport us to another dimension like nobody’s business. Hearing his new compositions at home gave me a nice buzz for an hour or so, but if they had been pumped into my subconscious on the surround sound, they probably would have left me thrumming for at least a week.

In favor of the at-home option is of course the convenience and affordability angle, and if you weren’t a Peacock subscriber already, you might even discover that it’s home to some pretty great shows. Not to mention that the original Firestarter is also available there currently, so you can easily jump back in time 38 years ago for comparison’s sake. Of course, there are always the distractions inherent to watching at home, and I can’t say that I found this new Firestarter particularly compelling, Armstrong’s best efforts notwithstanding. In general, the cast is made up of devoted vets whom I’ve enjoyed in other things taking the material seriously, though they’re not done any favors by a workmanlike approach that doesn’t really attempt to reinvent the flame. But maybe the appeal of watching a movie like this at home is that it doesn’t have to be burdened by expectations. Instead, you can efficiently throw it on, pay as much attention as you want, and then cross it off of your to-do list of Taking the Pulse of Modern Horror.

Firestarter 2022 is Recommended to Watch in the Theater If You Like: To have the fullest possible experience of new John Carpenter music

Firestarter 2022 is Recommended to Watch on Peacock If You Like: Being an Efficient Completist

Grade: 2 out of 5 Incinerations

‘The Vigil’ Puts a Hasidic Spin on Supernatural Horror

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The Vigil (CREDIT: IFC Midnight)

Starring: Dave Davis, Menashe Lustig, Lynn Cohen, Malky Goldman, Fred Melamed

Director: Keith Thomas

Running Time: 89 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Creepy Creatures Who Have No Concerns About People’s Mental Health

Release Date: February 26, 2021 (Theaters and On Demand)

The Vigil is the sort of movie that tells you exactly as much setup information as you need to know in case you’re not a member of the community where it takes place. I would pitch it as a sort of Orthodox Jewish spin on The Babadook, with a few elements of The Grudge thrown in as well. At the heart of the film is the role of a “shomer,” a person who fulfills the task of looking over the body of a recently deceased person until it’s buried. Typically, this is performed by a family member, but in cases where that’s not an option, there can be shomers hired from outside the family. That’s where Yakov Ronen’s (Dave Davis) story begins when his old rabbi (Menashe Lustig) shows up asking for a favor.

Yakov used to be a member of the Hasidic Jewish community in Brooklyn’s Borough Park neighborhood, but he’s recently opted for a less rigidly religious existence. But the community isn’t quite done with him, particularly in the form of Rabbi Reb Shulem, who offers him a few hundred bucks to be the shomer until dawn for an old man named Mr. Litvak whose widow (Lynn Cohen) lives alone and supposedly suffers from Alzheimer’s. Yakov could certainly use the cash, though he’s not sure it’s worth it since he’s been trying to cut off all contact with Reb. Ultimately, though, he takes the job, but it ends up being a lot more than he bargained for when evil spirits that had been haunting Mr. Litvak start turning their attention towards Yakov.

As in The Babadook, the supernatural forces in The Vigil also work metaphorically as a manifestation of the main character’s psychological state. The specifics of who or what these spooky beings really are is never specified, but ultimately that’s beside the point. I can imagine that Jewish folkloric creatures like dybbuks and the ghosts of the Holocaust served as inspiration. But what is most important here is the anxiety that Yakov is experiencing as a young man riddled by memories of guilt and trauma who’s also attempting to move forward in his life by learning fairly common but frequently challenging behaviors like learning how to talk to girls. Serving as a shomer on this particular night is like an hours-long panic attack manifesting as his worst nightmares come to life. It’s a gauntlet that could potentially lead to hospitalization or even a descent into Hell, or it could instead make him the strongest Yakov he’s ever been if he manages to somehow get through it. And those of us watching are liable to experience some secondhand catharsis.

The Vigil is Recommended If You Like: The Babadook, Spirits sneaking into technology, Cathartic horror

Grade: 4 out of 5 Shomers