Another day, another pointless remake. Poltergeist this time.
You know the drill. Family moves into house atop ancient Indian burial ground. Ghosts wreck havoc etc. What’s the point of explaining the plot gradually? They let us know right away that the house is haunted by ghosts with bad CGI and jump scare fetishes, ruining any sense of build up or tension.
They even chuck in a character drawing a diagram to explain how the spirit world works, similar to Interstellar’s ‘diagram to explain wormhole scene’. Christopher Nolan would be proud.
While not a hugely bankable star, Sam Rockwell still has enough credibility to be the film’s biggest selling point. And in the lead role he’s okay enough but the real praise goes to Kyle Catlett as his young son Griffin, a child actor who is definitiely one to watch. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for the actress who plays his younger sister so thankfully her screen time is limited.
Poltergeist tries to hard to invoke the feeling of the original, whilst forgetting what it was that made the original so great to begin with. The fact that the house was built over a cemetery was revealed far to early, likely so that with the necessary plot points out of the way they could over indulge in special effects, another trademark of modern horror films.
Similarly, despite lifting several key moments directly from the 1984 film, such as young Carol Anne touching the television screen and delivering the famous “they’re here line”, and the clown and tree scenes, they clearly felt that they needed to throw in some new elements to differentiate their version. Enter a subplot about the family being unemployed and low on cash in order to add an element of everyday family dram into the mix, which the filmmakers appear to forget about and leave unresolved. Enter a subplot about one of the paranormal investigators who believes that the whole thing is an elaborate hoax by the family for fame and fortune, despite the fact that he clearly saw supernatural elements at play prior to this, and in the very next scene is almost killed by the spirits, leading him to believe that the family are indeed telling the truth. Another subplot that goes nowhere.
The one thing that truly sets the remake of Poltergeist above the original is the casting of Jared Harris as Carrigan Burke, a grizzled reality TV psychic. Harris clearly has a lot of fun with the role and ultimately become the most memorable element of the film, and a welcome submitted for Zelda Rubenstein’s high pitch voice.
Another point to be commended is that virtually the entire film takes place inside the house. And unlike most haunted house movies, which go for a Castle Dracula style thing, here we just have a normal looking house. But rather than find comfort in the ordinary, we are instead given an even stronger sense of forbidding woe as we realise that this could almost be our own house. Hell, the film was directed by Gil Kenan, of Monster House fame, so clearly he’s the go-to guy for making houses creepy.
But when all is said and done, the 2015 version of Poltergeist simply does not offer enough to stand out from the original film. While it could have been far worse, it ultimately feels that as it was simply trying to copy the original rather than be a completely new take on the same story. This may be the most generic thing to say in The Age of the Remake, but watch the original instead.
Side note. The original Poltergeist is often cited as the film that lead to the creation of the PG-13 rating, so naturally the rake was rated PG-13 as well. Sigh. The original film was directed by Tobe Hooper, known for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and produced by Steven Spielberg, who many believe actually directed several scenes as they bear his distinct trademark. If that is indeed true, then Poltergeist is the first film directed by Spielberg to have been remade. Sadly it won’t be the last.