Mark Reviews Movies

Poltergeist (2015)


2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Gil Kenan

Cast: Sam Rockwell, Rosemarie DeWitt, Kyle Catlett, Saxon Sharbino, Kennedi Clements, Jared Harris, Jane Adams, Nicholas Braun, Susan Heyward 

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for intense frightening sequences, brief suggestive material, and some language)

Running Time: 1:33

Release Date: 5/22/15

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Review by Mark Dujsik | May 21, 2015

Poltergeist, a condensed remake of Tobe Hooper's 1982 horror film, is doubly redundant. Firstly, three decades after its release, the original film still works, thanks to its (at the time) top-of-line special effects, a series of legitimately gruesome scenes (It is strange that the remake, which has the PG-13 rating its predecessor helped to usher in, never comes close in that respect), and a much-appreciated sense of humor. Secondly, the original film was so effective that it has become the template for pretty much every haunted house movie that has been released since. We've obviously seen this material before, but we've also seen it reincarnated many other times—just under different titles.

We kind of expect these concerns going into the movie, and it is perhaps to the remake's credit that we momentarily forget them whenever it gets down to the business of recreating, tweaking, and trying to top the original's big scare moments. Special effects, of course, have advanced in the 33 years between Hooper's film and director Gil Kenan's new version, and this one takes advantage of those technological strides. The tree outside the house once again attacks a kid, but this time, its claw-like branches hunt down the boy and drag him, screaming, up some stairs, through the attic, and outside. It looks great, especially the way Kenan captures the swift motion in a one-take, but that's about the extent of the scene's success.

Kenan and screenwriter David Lindsay-Abaire do give the movie some nifty adjustments, although they're all just kernels of ideas that seem to exist solely to set this version apart from the first film. There's a drone with a thermal camera attached to it. When the family and the paranormal experts get ready to stop the otherworldly threat, all of them receive a GPS tracker so that a computer can track their movements through the house. The killer clown doll has a pull-cord nose, so it almost seems to be counting down the seconds before it strikes. It's little stuff, and the movie is quick to dismiss whatever new ideas it has almost as soon as they're introduced.

It is intriguing how the socioeconomic concerns have shifted between then and now. In the original, one might recall that trouble started because of the actions of a greedy company. In this one, we learn about the "cemetery business"—a polite way of saying that the developers simply removed the headstones and built a neighborhood on top of a cemetery—before any of the real trouble starts.

This family has hit some tough economic times. Eric Bowen (Sam Rockwell) was recently laid off from his job. His wife Amy (Rosemarie DeWitt) wants to go back to work, but Eric wants to support her desire to raise their three children and try to write her book. Basically, to add injury to insult, the family gets stuck with a haunted house because the realtors are apparently trying to cash in on people who have fallen on hard times.

The kids receive the brunt of the ghostly attacks. Kendra (Saxon Sharbino) is grabbed by an animated corpse that has broken through the garage floor. Griffin (Kyle Catlett) gets the one-two punch of the clown and the tree. Madison (Kennedi Clements) gets sucked into the astral plane of existence through a portal in her closet. The abduction leads the family to seek help from academic and professional ghost hunters—namely a team from a local university led by Dr. Brooke Powell (Jane Adams) and reality-television star Carrigan Burke (Jared Harris).

Everything here feels rushed, as if the movie itself is restless to get from one scare to the next. It's not as if the original was laid back. It was also much more interested in the pageantry of horror than in trying to give us much in the way of plot or characters, but there was at least a sense of the family and the individual characters' struggles to comprehend what is happening. This one gets a slight boost in the latter department due to a couple of fine performances from Rockwell and DeWitt as the helpless parents, and as for the former matter, there is a nicely blocked sequence in which the family forms a chain of locked hands to protect one of their own.

The scare sequences are staged well. Kenan understands the importance of silence, especially in one scene in which Griffin wanders around an empty room to discover the origin of a runaway baseball, as the soundtrack only gives us the creaks of his steps and his breathing. This is important, since the entire climax—the fake part and the real deal—is little more than a noise and light show (The movie takes us inside the astral plane, but we keep wondering to what end). Ultimately, though, these sequences are merely hollow impersonations of what we've already seen.

There's a moment in which one of the kids tries to get the ghost hunter to say his trademarked line (You probably know it from the original), like he's a trained animal doing the same old tricks for predictable amusement. Poltergeist is kind of like that.

Copyright © 2015 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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