Poltergeist is a forgettable diversion – one that may satisfy casual viewers looking for a mildly eerie (and sometimes humorous) ghost story.
After losing his job to corporate layoffs, Eric Bowen (Sam Rockwell) is forced to relocate his wife (Rosemarie DeWitt), two daughters (Saxon Sharbino as well as Kennedi Clements), and son (Kyle Catlett) to a more affordable neighborhood. Burdened by mounting debt, the couple struggle to find a new home but settle on a modest fixer-upper after their realtor suggests recent foreclosures around the area have created wiggle room in local real estate pricing. However, as the family gets set up in their new house, six-year-old Maddy begins to notice strange events: moving objects, static-electricity discharges, and voices that no one else can hear.
Middle-child Griffin begins to worry these unexplainable occurrences are something sinister – and tries to warn his family. Unfortunately, the concerns are dismissed by his parents, who believe Griffin is just overly-anxious about the move, until Maddy goes missing – and resurfaces as a disembodied voice inside the family TV. Unable to explain what is happening, the Bowens turn to a team of parapsychologists to learn about the malevolent force that has infiltrated their home – in the hope of finding a way to bring Maddy back.
Based on the original 1982 film of the same name, directed by Tobe Hooper and co-written by Steven Spielberg, the 2015 Poltergeist remake lands firm in the category of entertaining but entirely unnecessary remakes. Aside from improved visual effects, a modern setting, and some cathartic moments of chuckle-worthy humor, director Gil Kenan’s version of Poltergeist is a, comparatively, common haunted house movie. Longtime fans of the original film will have little reason to revisit the Poltergeist series in this reboot – but Kenan’s film is still more enjoyable (albeit only slightly) than similarly unoriginal horror films that find success at the box office.
Whereas the 1982 film focused heavily on the responsibility and sacrifices of being a mother, the 2015 Poltergeist reboot is much more egalitarian – including roles for each member of the family; though some are better, and more memorable, than others. The result is a film that flirts with some interesting ideas in effort to remake Hooper’s classic but comes across as more paint-by-numbers updating/revision than inspired storytelling. All the essential pieces are there, with a few cosmetic “twists” (example: the “medium” is a man not a woman), but in his attempt to ground the movie with relatable character drama (such as Eric Bowen’s financial troubles) Kenan fumbles in connecting the movie’s most important element: overarching mythology. Instead of a clear-cut (albeit parapsychological) tale of undead souls, a malevolent entity, and the “light,” all of the remake’s supernatural components are thrown together in a convoluted mix – anchored by little more than throwaway lines of expository dialogue.
Sam Rockwell is well-intentioned in the role of Eric Bowen, blending humor and authenticity in a part that, with a different actor, could have been a hollow outline. Given the actor’s extensive filmography, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to see Rockwell steal the spotlight in Poltergeist. Still, while Eric Bowen is entertaining, he’s also one of the biggest victims of Kenan’s choppy narrative. Early on, the movie plants interesting seeds for Rockwell to unpack (including self-destructive pride) but quickly abandons nearly all of them once Maddy goes missing.
The same can be said for nearly every other character. As an example, significant emphasis is placed on Amy Bowen’s failure as a novelist – without revisiting or utilizing the otherwise random detail later on. Ultimately, Kenan sets an interesting stage but fails to construct anything particularly notable on top of it. Even the team of parapsychologists, led by Dr. Brooke Powell (Jane Adams), is bland – reduced to technobabble-spouting background dressing rather than insightful touchstones that inform Poltergeist‘s audience on the finer points of supernatural consciousness.
Out of everyone, Griffin is given the most complete arc – with a personable turn from Kyle Catlett (who even gets to make light of familiar horror cliches). Griffin’s journey in the film isn’t groundbreaking but Catlett, and a touch of subtle writing, imbues Griffin with affecting vulnerability – instrumental in providing much-needed emotional punch as events unfold in Poltergeist. Catlett’s interactions with Rockwell are especially good – as the banter he shares with Jarred Harris (portraying TV personality/accomplished medium Carrigan Burke).
That all said, as a horror genre entry, Poltergeist falls short in its primary goal: the remake simply isn’t very scary. Regularly trading (budget) CGI effects in place of haunting build-ups and spooky payoffs, the only semi-successful moments of terror are uninventive jump scares. For that reason, Poltergeist isn’t essential horror movie viewing for anyone well-versed in the genre, especially the remake’s 1982 inspiration. Long time horror connoisseurs will find very few new ideas or scares in Kenan’s film.
Instead, Poltergeist (2015) is a forgettable diversion – one that may satisfy casual viewers looking for a mildly eerie (and sometimes humorous) ghost story – but is far from the imaginative and, downright terrifying, storytelling that made Poltergeist (1982) an enduring horror film classic.
Poltergeist (2015) runs 93 minutes and is Rated PG-13 for intense frightening sequences, brief suggestive material, and some language. Now playing in 2D and 3D theaters.
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