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Poltergeist (A Movie Review)

Updated: Apr 9, 2020

Poltergeist (2015)

Poltergeist (2015)


Starring Sam Rockwell, Rosemarie DeWitt, Kennedi Clements, Kyle Catlett, Saxon Sharbino, Jane Adams, Jared Harris, Nicholas Braun, Susan Heyward, Karen Ivany, Patrick Garrow, Doug MacLeod, Eve Crawford, L.A. Lopes, Soma Bhatia, John Stoneham Jr., Kathryn Greenwood and Molly Kidder.

Screenplay by David Lindsay-Abaire.

Directed by Gil Kenan.

Distributed by 20th Century Fox.  93 minutes.  Rated PG-13.

Let’s add Poltergeist to the “why did they bother to remake that?” list.

It’s not a bad film, per se.  In fact it seemed to have a certain amount of promise.  One of the producers was terrific b-horror maestro Sam Raimi.  The film was directed by up-and-comer Gil Kenan, whose last film Monster House (which was also about a haunting) was nominated for an Oscar for Best Animated Film a few years ago.

The new film has a good cast, including inspired leads Sam Rockwell and Rosemarie DeWitt.  Special effects have certainly grown by leaps and bounds in the 33 years since the original Poltergeist came out.  The new film is fairly faithful to the original storyline, with a few tweaks to bring it up to the current millennium.

Like I said, it’s not a bad film.

But, it’s not even close to being as good of a film as the original Poltergeist.  And since that film is still widely available and does not look particularly dated, I ask again: Why did they bother to remake Poltergeist?

Beats me.

The original Poltergeist was as much a satire on suburban life as a horror film.  Written by Steven Spielberg and directed by Texas Chainsaw Massacre creator Tobe Hooper, the film was released as the dark half of Spielberg’s childhood-in-suburbia double feature in the summer of 1982.  (Spielberg’s other simultaneously-released film for that summer, ET: The Extraterrestrial, was meant to be the lighter side of the same coin.)

Unlike the family in the original film, who was moving on up to the American dream when they found out it was a nightmare, the new residents of Poltergeist are on their way down.  Eric Bowen (Sam Rockwell) is a former worker at John Deere who has been laid off from his job.  His wife Amy (Rosemarie DeWitt) is a stay-at-home mom who says she wants to write a book, but spends most of her time looking after teen daughter Kendra (Saxon Sharbino), 11-year old son Griffin (Kyle Catlett) and youngest daughter Maddy (Kennedi Clements).  (I can’t say why all the character names have been completely changed from the original.)  Amy is considering returning to work, though Eric does not seem to like the idea.

The family needs to move and they decide upon a huge house in an older housing development, one that was undoubtedly state of the art at the time of the first film but now starting to fall on hard times.  Even though it is intimated this house is supposed to be a step down for the from their former home, the audience still can’t help but wonder how a family with no income was approved for a mortgage to buy this huge three-story, four bedroom house.

Like the original film (and dozens of haunting movies since it came out), the horror of their predicament dawns on them slowly.  The young daughter starts talking to someone mysterious in the closet.  A toy clown and a giant tree turn menacing.  And then the little girl starts talking to static on the TV.  Then she disappears.

One modern twist is not even acknowledged here: that it is difficult, if not impossible, to get static on a flat screen TV because channels now run 24/7 and if for some reason you did reach a station with no signal, the TVs normally go straight to blue screen.  However this house is full of flat screen TVs with static.

If it all sounds familiar, it’s because you have seen it, and seen it done better, before.

In fairness, there are some minor tweaks to the storyline.  The parapsychologist and the house “cleaner” are ex-husband and wife.  The reveal that the housing development was built on the site of a graveyard is made casually much earlier in the film.  The most famous gross-out effect in the original, which happened to one of the ghost hunters, now happens in a variation to the dad.  A different family member goes in to the void to save the young daughter from the “light.”  (In fact, one must wonder if some of this section ended up on the cutting room floor, as everyone assumes at one point that the ghosts were led to the light and yet it was never really suggested previously that they try to lead them there.)

However, for the most part, it is pretty much the same as the classical original, just not done as well.  Which begs the question: If you are going to watch a less-entertaining version of the same old story, why not just go back to the better source material?

Once again, we’ve got to ask: Why did they bother to remake Poltergeist?

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2015 All rights reserved. Posted: May 22, 2015.

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