I am not a huge fan of the concept of remakes especially classics which have left a mark in our memories, but under the guidance of some skillful film makers why not? In case of this film, the remake is produced by Sam Raimi and Robert G. Tapert, who gave us The Evil Dead films! Well, if you’ve never seen the original 1982 Poltergeist, then this movie may be absolutely freaky for newcomers, but for those who have seen the ’82 classic, this remake is both fantastic and awful at the same time. It’s essentially a retelling of the original story with a few tweaks and a ton of CGI. Is it as good as the original? Of course not. But that doesn’t mean it has no entertainment value as a standalone horror flick.
The film is certainly an admirable effort, but it needed to embrace the original’s roots, scare tactics and slow build instead of sticking with recent horror movie “tropes” like jump-scares and minimal story-telling. If the film were fifteen-twenty minutes longer and had a script rewrite, it could have lived up to the original. The story follows the Bowen family; father Eric (Sam Rockwell), mother Amy (Rosemary DeWitt) who move into a new suburban home with their three children only to find increasingly odd supernatural occurrences plaguing their house. The kids: Kendra (Saxon Sharbino), a sullen teen who is forever glued to her tablet; middle child Griffin (Kyle Catlett) who is terrified of just about everything; and cherubic six-year old Madison (Kennedi Clements) who makes a habit of talking to things that aren’t there. Eric has just lost his job with John Deere, and Amy is a failed writer who wants make time to write her book. The poltergeists, different from traditional ghosts in the way that they interact with humans in a more violent, persistent manner, wind up taking the couple’s youngest child, who can communicate with the spirits due to her innocence, and withholding her from the family.
Desperate, confused, and low on options, the couple wind up hiring a crew of reality TV paranormal investigators (Jared Harris, Jane Adams, Susan Heyward, Nicholas Braun) to try and extricate the house from the demons to get their daughter back. The sheer elegance and the amalgamation of two very different styles of the horror genre were precisely what made the original Poltergeist so effective and memorable. It wasn’t a choppy, vague exploration of the supernatural, offering a simple story and digestible explanations to the reoccurring paranormal activity without becoming too bogged down by exposition. In addition, we saw the blending of Tobe Hooper‘s campy, low-budget style with Steven Spielberg‘s Hollywood professionalism to great effect, as the project soon went from a questionably frightening horror film to a film that many could take seriously and believe. Right from the trailers, the remake promised some terrifying moments in comparison to the original. Luckily, it succeeds in that department. At first the setting of the house offers little threat, a few incidents happening in the day time might make you jump, but for the most part offer a safe relief from the terrors at hand. Once night hits and the power conveniently goes out, that is where the audience begins to jump.
The film plays off one’s fear of the dark, using the shadows to build anticipation, suspense, and terror at what our invisible “friends” have in store. Is there anything new? One is some new scare ploy, primarily the clowns that were not in the 80’s version, that kind of work. The design team has crafted some haunting dolls that are perhaps the scariest part with their soulless eyes and smiles. The creeps aren’t the only ploy they have in their bag though. Second is the integrating modern technology as a media for the ghosts to use such as iPhones and ipads that are generation is accustomed too. Third is the increase in special effects that help bring the horror to life, though sometimes the effects are cheesy and over flashy. It’s creepy, the camera work and sound editing making you feel abandoned in the house aside from kids who aren’t necessarily equipped to bust ghosts. The film also has plenty jump at you moments, where things suddenly jump out at you after the predictable build up. Does the remake have flaws? Yes, but even the original has flaws. There isn’t a “beast” in the remake. Just a bunch of angry ghosts. The son has more of a role in this one as does the oldest daughter who wasn’t seen much in the original. The clown attack in this one is more vicious! The tree scratching the glass was cool and a black puff of smoke called a tornado doesn’t take the tree away. I loved the seeing the youngest daughter and the son in the “other world”.
All of the spirits around them pulling the rope was awesome to see. One thing the remake gets right that the original didn’t is when the family saves the youngest daughter they tried to get the hell out of there! The original family puts the son and daughter back in the same room where the daughter was abducted?! Not smart! The ending is different too. The family van being thrown into the house when trying to escape was unexpected.
Acting wise, Sam Rockwell is the obvious highlight. He’s a very talented, likable actor and elevates any scene he’s in just by his presence. He could have easily done this role in his sleep or on auto-pilot but Rockwell commits to the part and is by far the most watchable and relate able character in the movie. The family dynamic feels real solely because of him. Jared Harris gives a great performance as well considering the limited screen time he was given. Jared Harris‘ character is a huge wasted opportunity. It’s the fault of the writers really. I mean there is some truly *cringe worthy* dialogue that’s so unbelievable that it looks as if the actors are just reading off cue cards. And then they throw in a really really dumb love subplot between Jared Harris and the lead investigator which was a waste of time and excruciatingly awkward to watch. Rosemarie DeWitt was alright! The real stand out stars of the film where Kennedi Clements & Kyle Catlett, despite their young age, the terror on their faces is what evokes the emotion of fear in you. On the whole, this remake of Poltergeist was pretty effective in its way not unlike the original for what it’s worth. Its not as bad as some people are pointing it out to be! Yes, they switched, and rattled up from the original, dropping some unique aspects from the original.
Either way, this 2015 remake wins, succeeding on multiple levels, from visual effects, to execution, all the way to characters. Finally, it wasn’t the scariest film ever, not as much as the original, but it succeeds in giving the audience a feeling of unsettlement. Let’s be honest, not only have we seen this film done before in the form of the original, but pretty much every horror film within the last five years. The Conjuring, Insidious, Sinister, Paranormal Activity – frankly, I’m at a loss at exactly what the hell there is left to cover. This film is pretty much a by the numbers film in that aspect: family home haunted by malevolent forces and jump scares. In all it’s a very watchable remake that leaves you feeling entertained!
Overall Rating: 7.1
Director – Gil Kenan
Starring – Sam Rockwell, Rosemarie DeWitt, Kennedi Clements
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 93 minutes