Poltergeist – 2015
Dir: Gil Kenan
USA, 90 mins
“It knows what scares you”
Warning: some story spoilers below particularly if you never saw the original film
Let me just state this upfront, no remake could ever be as good as Poltergeist from 1982.
That movie is considered a classic in haunted house horror. The movie took the old tropes of the haunted Gothic mansion and moved them right next door to us in the suburbs and tormented a regular all American family in the process. There has been much speculation about who really directed it (Spielberg did!) but regardless the movie is fantastic and still holds up to this day. A fine fright film with a LOT of heart.
So here we are in the modern era where every single piece of I.P. that Hollywood owns is being thrown through the remake machine with varying results. They have gone back and forth on this remake for quite some time and now Sam Raimi’s Ghosthouse pictures has taken the reigns and remade the film for new audiences. You gotta think if Raimi is a part of this then it’s gotta be pretty good, he knows what he is doing with horror going back to the Evil Dead.
You would be wrong to think that unfortunately.
For this movie I tried really, really hard not to compare it against the original for reasons stated above. I thought what this should be compared to is the modern ghost films like Paranormal Activity, Insidious and The Conjuring. Those three movies are my favorite horror films from the new millennium. I am sad to say, this new Poltergeist failed to beat any of those.
This film goes through the same motions as the original does, all the elements are there: the TV signals, closet, the clown toy, the weird events in the house, having one of the kids taken away by the spirits, and the involvement of paranormal investigators. Even the casting of the family, while they changed Carol Anne’s name to Maddie, she looks and acts like a brunette version of the original character. All of the casting is fine for the most part. I did not have any issues there, it’s just that the film kind of leans on the original expecting you to know who these people are because of it and using that shorthand to get you to try to feel for it. They try to replicate that relationship that the parents, Steve and Diane, had in the original but it just does not connect ultimately. Sam Rockwell, who is usually terrific, feels a little too laconic in the role. Rose Marie Dewitt is a great choice for the mom but not really given much to do with it. Both the parents disappear during one of the most important moments of the film. I could not understand why they took them away from the house at that time.
The rest of the cast again is fine performance-wise. Jared Harris plays a reality TV ghost hunter who hastily gets called in to check out the house. He is supposed to be replacing the Tangina character and he does a decent job making his own paranormal investigator unique, but the connection is never really made with it. Jane Adams is fine as the collegiate paranormal investigator replacing Doctor Lesh but again for the most part not given much to do. They try to tie up these characters together and it rings hollow when it plays out.
The ultimate problem is that the film is about 90 minutes long and it feels really rushed. They set up all these new things like the former owner wired the whole house with electronics, setting up a home security system, the house, along with the neighborhood, being run down and focusing on the power lines outside the house. You think this is going to be connected somehow and it never pays off. It feels like they rush through moments, checking off nods to the original in an attempt to just get there with it.
They barely touch on the early poltergeist events like the chair stacking or the floor slide. The family becomes too complacent with the goings on too quick and it never is explored fully by the time they call for help. The clown toy which is prominently a part of the original and the in the poster for this film is completely wasted. I think they deal with it for about 5 or 10 minutes total and then it’s gone! In the middle of the movie!
The worst offender of this lack of logic is they never explain why THIS HOUSE and THIS FAMILY in particular is being targeted. In the original it all made sense. Steve Freeling was a realtor selling houses over an old cemetery (unbeknownst to him) and the spirits were pissed about it. This time, nothing! The reason for the haunting is exactly the same as the original film but with a whole neighborhood full of houses, why this one house and this family at this time? It is never asked or explained. I did not get it at all.
The more interesting aspects of the film are when they change things up a bit, we finally get to see the “other side” of the closet and it is a hellish landscape. They play around with the same inter-dimensional ideas within the house that Insidious used in their films to a much better degree. Odd too, since Insidious is a complete homage to Poltergeist and a much better movie than this remake.
To be honest, I have seen a lot worse movies and if you are of the curious sort, then check it out. But ultimately, expect a let down when it is done. The film feels forced and rushed and lacks any real substance for a horror fan to sink their teeth into. I really wanted this to be better than it was. The director made another film, an animated feature called Monster House, which was a lot of fun. He should have been right on target for this story but instead he missed the mark entirely. When I look at a film like Paranormal Activity and I find more scares in that then in a Poltergeist remake, it is a problem. The Conjuring was a masterclass in modern horror using elements from the original Poltergeist (and many other films) to elevate the material and then adding it up into something new and much more frightening.
As for the blu ray itself, the picture and sound are terrific overall. I am not a technical reviewer but on my set it I had no issues and the film looked good. Where I do have an issue is the LACK of extras. There is a bonus cut of the movie which I did not watch only because the menu seemed to only let me into the theatrical version. And there is a useless stills gallery. Honesty, this is the best they could come up with? I wonder if they would do another version and double dip down the road. With lack of any real extras and the overall movie being what it is I cannot recommend a buy on this title. If you need to see it, rent it on VOD or Redbox. I bet in the coming weeks it will be on sale for $10 bucks or so. Anything over that price just is not worth it.