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Review: Poltergeist (2015)

Poltergeist (2015)

Directed by: Gil Kenan

Premise: A remake of the 1982 film. A family moves into a new house that is haunted by supernatural activity. When the specters abduct their youngest daughter, a team of a paranormal researchers attempt to rescue her.

What Works: The remake of Poltergeist exists within the recent trend of haunted house movies like Paranormal Activity, Sinister, and The Conjuring. It’s very much a part of that recent crop of PG-13 supernatural horror and viewers who have responded to those movies, which are primarily teenagers with little other horror movie experience, are probably going to find a few thrills in this film as well. There are a few scary sequences early on that are executed well; the early signs of the haunting are the creepiest moments of the film. Among the flourishes to the Poltergeist remake is an expanded role for the son, played by Kyle Catlett. He is established as a nervous kid who frightens easily and he’s given a satisfying character arc over the course of the picture. The cast also includes Jared Harris as a celebrity paranormal investigator. His part features a few clever riffs on memorable moments of the original Poltergeist and Harris has a fun rapport with another supernatural investigator played by Jane Adams.

What Doesn’t: Supernatural movies require a considerable suspension of disbelief on the part of the audience but there is a lot in the 2015 version of Poltergeist that is entirely unbelievable and has nothing to do with ghosts. In the opening scene it’s established that both parents, played by Sam Rockwell and Rosemarie DeWitt, are unemployed but somehow they are able to get a mortgage and buy a huge suburban house. It’s also made clear that their credit cards are sapped but somehow the father is able to shower his kids with expensive electronic gifts. The money troubles of the couple continue throughout the first third of the movie until they are dropped and never addressed again. The materialism of these characters, and particularly the father and oldest daughter, makes the family and the movie unlikable. The Poltergeist remake plays like a rich Hollywood producer’s idea of what poverty looks like; the family has moved into a gorgeous new home located in what is clearly an upper class subdivision and yet the kids and the friends of the family constantly disparage the house and the neighborhood. The wealthy naivety of the characters and the filmmakers sours the movie early on. Poltergeist could recover from this if the characters came together as a family through this ordeal but that is never done convincingly. The weakest link of the central cast is Sam Rockwell. The actor plays a father whose daughter has disappeared and he’s never believable. One of the great things about the original Poltergeist was how actors Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams played the parts straight, as though these parents had lost their child to a stranger instead of a malevolent spirit. Rockwell does not play scared and never allows himself to be vulnerable and that, along with the materialism of the movie, ruins any chance of the audience achieving empathy with these people. In producing a remake, it is incumbent on the filmmakers of the new version of Poltergeist to top the original picture or to do something innovative that justifies the existence of this new edition. They never accomplish that. In fact, the movie works through all of the basic plot beats of the 1982 film and recreates many of its memorable scenes and in virtually every case it does them less well. This is most evident in the finale. The ending of Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist was a relentless and violent climax that mixed funhouse thrills with the visceral terror of Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The remake never even gets close.

Bottom Line: The 2015 version of Poltergeist is another remake designed to capitalize on a brand name but it’s an inferior imitation. The movie is not very scary, at least not for anyone over fifteen years old, and it’s populated by characters who might as well get sucked into the netherworld.

Episode: #544 (May 31, 2015)