Poltergeist is one of those films that are a part of our culture – it has been parodied numerous times, and lives on as an 80s classic that is still brilliant and scary to this day. Many children of the time still remember it (and remember being scared by it) fondly, and if one were to list truly classic horrors, it would undoubtedly be near the top of the list. So when it was announced that Poltergeist was to be remade, an almost audible collective groan was the result.
The film retains the same core story as the original film – a family move to a new house, and find it to be haunted by strange apparitions, who abduct the family’s youngest daughter. They must come together, enlisting the help of paranormal researchers and a telly psychic to help bring her back.
The film is not terrible, by any means – from the look of some of the trailers that preceded it, it is likely to be one of the better horror films of the year. For the right audience, it will be fairly scary – it will definitely be jumpy, like every horror film now seems to be (perhaps it relies on these too much – a CGI squirrel jump scare that has nothing to do with the plot is a fairly clear example). I watched it in 2D, but there are also a number of bits that will get you if you add in another dimension (and if you don’t, you’ll notice them anyway).
The acting is quite good too (although you weren’t expecting that much from a horror film) – of particular note is Kyle Catlett as Griffin, the family’s young son who wears a perpetual air of dread throughout, and Jared Harris as psychic Carrigan Burke (who adds an air of fun to it, and is a change from Zelda Rubinstein if you ever saw one). Kennedi Clements as Madison Bowen, the youngest daughter, brought the requisite big-eyed sweetness, although she was no Heather O’Rourke. Not that it was all good – Sam Rockwell seemed to phone it in, expressing the same emotions after his daughter was abducted as he did when his credit card was neglected, and he was no successor to Craig T. Nelson.
And therein lies the problem with the film – when describing it, or even watching it, it invites comparisons to the original film. And in the original, we have a film that is much better.
All of the iconic moments from the original film are there, played straight or played with – the possessed tree, the possessed clown doll, mysterious stacked objects, face peeling, a passage to the spirit world in the closet – and they don’t seem scary, instead relying on the recognition of the viewer to make them anything more than simple jump scares (the exception to this is Maddie’s abduction into the spirit world, which I think is far more creepy in this version).
The prime motivation (that the house was built atop a graveyard) is also unchanged, although it did lead to an interesting question in my mind – namely, in what cemetery do you dig six inches down and find bones? The film’s use of technophobia also crops up, updated for the modern viewer – the spirits play with phones, with flat screen TVs and the like. However, at some moments, it seemed far too familiar. The arrival of the paranormal investigators, their set-up and investigation, could’ve been a scene copy and pasted from The Conjuring. Indeed, it seems mandatory for every horror coming out to have a scene of this kind.
I enjoyed the film, and had I not been tempered with knowledge of the original, I would have found it a fun evening watching a decent horror film. But the fact of the matter is that I have, and I was somewhat unimpressed with a film that doesn’t live up to its predecessor. Go and watch it, by all means – a younger audience will love it – but do remain conscious of the fact a superior version is out there.
Director: Gil Kenan
Cast: Sam Rockwell (Eric Bowen), Rosemarie DeWitt (Amy Bowen), Jared Harris (Carrigan Burke), Jane Adams (Dr. Brooke Powell), Saxon Sharbino (Kendra Bowen), Kennedi Clements (Madison Bowen)
Running Time: 93 Mins