New Poltergeist a Blandly Mediocre Remake
Eric (Sam Rockwell) and Amy Bowen (Rosemarie DeWitt) are forced by the economic downturn to move their family to a new home on the outskirts of town. Both their eldest daughter Kendra (Saxon Sharbino) and middle son Griffin (Kyle Catlett) aren’t exactly thrilled by this turn of events, while youngest Madison (Kennedi Clements) is more than willing to give the new place a fair shot. She’s even made a few new acquaintances, the six-year-old talking to voices coming out of the closet and on the television that apparently only she can hear.
These are no imaginary friends. Something strange is happening in the Bowen’s new house, and it soon becomes frighteningly apparent it isn’t of the physical world. Unearthly events are afflicting the family, putting all their lives, especially Madison’s, in mortal danger. It’s up to a celebrated paranormal researcher, famed television personality and psychic Carrigan Burke (Jared Harris), to set things right, he and his team of University academics going to do whatever they can to right a horrible wrong and save the Bowen family before it’s too late.
Not that this will come as a shock to just about anyone, there’s no real reason for a new Poltergeist to exist. That said, if you’re going to do it, if you’re going to go to the trouble or remaking the still-scary-as-hell 1982 original directed by Tobe Hooper and co-written by Steven Spielberg, than by golly just do it. Make the material your own. Take the ideas and then run with them in a fresh, hopefully inspired new direction. Do something that is unexpected and doesn’t feel as if you’re just going through the motions. In short, make a movie that stands on its own outside of the original and doesn’t just traffic in one’s nostalgia and affinity for it, in doing so hopefully crafting a modern day variation worth getting excited about.
That, however, isn’t what director Gil Kenan (Monster House) and screenwriter David Lindsay-Abaire (Rabbit Hole) end up doing. While the film is competently made, while a few individual scenes and moments in and of themselves generate tension and suspense, on the whole this new Poltergeist does not exist outside of the 1982 original. It is beholden to it in ways that are both stupid and annoying, turning into a greatest hits highlight reel as it attempts to reimagine signature moments in a contemporary way. Even when it does make a notable change the switch is so blatantly telegraphed that when it takes place the shock value is amazingly low, diluting any chance for an emotional reaction on the part of the viewer in the process.
Even attempts to bring things into the 21st century feel forced and, most bizarrely, false, having Eric being a victim of the economic downturn leading to discussions as to who needs to head back into the workforce first that feel shoehorned in for the sake of giving Rockwell and DeWitt something to do before everything goes batty. Character development is kept at an absolute minimum, the Bowens never becoming a fully formed family unit in the same way their counterparts the Freelings did back in ’82. Kenan and Lindsay-Abaire seem content in the knowledge viewers are already going to be up to speed as to what is happening and why, as such they don’t show any motivation to do more than necessary to bring their new protagonists to life.
If I’m being overly harsh in all honesty I don’t particularly mean to be. While my appreciation and affinity for Hooper’s original knows no bounds (it’s the only film that, as a kid, scared me so much I had to sleep in my parent’s room for three nights after watching it) that doesn’t mean I wasn’t prepared to give this new version a fair shake. I love Kenan’s Monster House and feel it is one of the more underappreciated animated efforts of the past decade. As for Lindsay-Abaire, he’s one of the more literate and accomplished writers working today, Rabbit Hole reason enough to give him the benefit of the doubt for the remainder of his career.
More, it isn’t like the pair do not offer up some terrific bits. The initial assault on the Bowen children is superbly staged, not the least of which is the sequence of events that takes Madison inside the closet in a way that couldn’t be any more different, yet still equally chilling, then what led little Carol Anne in there 33 years ago. I also love that Lindsay-Abaire and Kenan don’t jettison the teenage child to the sidelines as Spielberg and Hooper did, keeping Kendra around as an integral and important part of the proceedings as she would be if any of this were real.
But there just isn’t any reason for this new incarnation of Poltergeist to exist. All it does is run in circles trying to hit all the highpoints of the original, reproducing them in ways that feel tired and obvious. Even a foray into the world on the other side of the paranormal spectrum is a waste of time, the whole sequence nothing more than a video game first-person shooter excursion that makes blandly practical what should be left unsettlingly to the imagination. Not so much bad as it is vapidly mediocre, this competently made yet unremarkable remake is a waste of effort and time that should never have been put into production in the first place.
Film Rating: 2 out of 4