As I’ve stated many, many times before on this blog I am not a fan of remakes or reboots. Unless there is a justifiable reason to make one, be it a script that was too ahead of its time or a fresh angle to update the story, films of the past should just be left alone in favor of new content. But Hollywood doesn’t subscribe to my opinion on the matter. Not one iota. If they own a brand or franchise that they feel still holds weight they will use it until it stops making money. Due to this audiences have received a glut of completely unnecessary remakes over the past few years that were made just to squeeze any juice that might remain within whatever property of yesteryear they choose. 90% of them are absolute shit (A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the13th, The Hitcher, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween) while the remaining 10% might bring something new to the table (Evil Dead, Robocop, Piranha 3D, Maniac).
Poltergeist falls within the 90%.
A down on their luck family of five moves into a new house only to find that it is infested with malevolent spirits that want to use the youngest child to guide them into the afterlife.
The plot of this uninspired remake, directed by Gil Kenan (Monster House, City of Ember) and written by David Lindsay-Abaire (Oz the Great and Powerful, Inkheart, Robots) pays homage to the original at the same time it spits on it. The script follows the story of the 1982 film so closely in fact that one wonders why it was remade at all. Well, other than to milk whatever money MGM can from its once popular franchise until 1988’s Poltergeist III killed it. Outside of the tweaking of some of the events to better suit modern audiences and for the sake of 3D, this is the exact same movie all over again just sped up to fit within a 90 minute run time.
I cannot fault the actors for the film’s problems, as they seem to be trying their hardest to make this tripe work. At least the adult actors anyway. Well, some of them. Two of them. Yeah, two of them. Final answer. Sam Rockwell (Galaxy Quest, Iron Man 2) and Rosemarie DeWitt (The United States of Tara, Mad Men) as the two leads are actually kind of fantastic… most of the time. They have a great chemistry together and do their best to sell the horror to the audience. The child actors don’t fare so well with only Kyle Catlett as middle child Griffin showing any signs of life. The less said about Jared Harris (Resident Evil: Apocalypse, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows) as Carrigan Burke, standing in for the small but powerful psychic Tangina, the better. He seems embarrassed for the entire film. As does Jane Adams (Happiness) as Dr. Powell. I got the feeling that they were phoning it in for the paycheck.
The script by Lindsay-Abaire is lazy and offers nothing new. It’s a PG-13 horror film meant to frighten kids so he basically took everything that worked in the original and dumbed it down. The 1982 film was meant to be frightening for both adults and children. This one is a non-stop series of boo scares and CGI bullshit. His characters are all clichés, dumb as a box of rocks and most of the time emotionless. The plot developments and exposition comes out of nowhere from characters that really have zero insight into what is going on. Harris’ Burke takes a quick look around the house and has all the answers the leads have been looking for. It’s lame. And the resolution in the finale is flat out stupid. Plus Rockwell’s character in a scene where we learn just how strapped for cash the family is immediately follows it up by going on a spending spree. Why? Because a couple of the purchases will come into use later in the film. These items couldn’t have already been owned by the characters? The scene is unneeded and makes Rockwell’s Eric come off as an irresponsible asshat who is willing to buy stupid shit and drop his family further into the money pit in which they are already neck deep.
The only positives I can say about the screenplay is that Lindsay-Abaire decided to set the film from the point of view of Griffin (standing in for Robbie) instead of the parents like in the original. I also really liked how the spirits lured young Madison (standing in for Carol-Anne) into the closet with pretty lights instead of turning it into a giant black hole and destroying the room in the process. Seeing what was actually inside the closet was cool too, but kind of ruins the mystery of the limbo where the spirits were trapped.
Gil Keenan showed such promise with his directorial debut, Monster House. It was an animated haunted house movie for kids that was both charming and scary. Best of all it worked. So when I saw he was hired to direct this film I was genuinely excited. He showed a deft hand in the genre and I thought he’d knock this one out of the park. Nope. He not only forgets to have his actors emote in the scenes when they need to the most, like after Madison disappears, he treats the film as if it were a “Greatest Hits” version of the original. Scenes are rushed and truncated so often that I felt pivotal moments were lost. The film has no breathing room to let not only the characters stretch but to let the events play out organically like in the original. When wave after wave of CGI terrors are being thrown at the main characters and you really could give a shit you know something has gone wrong. This is the ADHD version of Poltergeist and Michael Bay had nothing to do with it.
Worst of all is the fact that this movie isn’t even remotely scary. The original played on a lot of fears – clowns, the dark, drowning, storms, the loss of a child, shadows, etc. None of these fears are set up beforehand in the remake, so when the scene involving them plays out there is no reason for them to exist. In the original Robbie was afraid of the tree in the backyard because it looked creepy through his bedroom window at night. When it comes to life to attack him we understand why. The spirits knew he was scared of it so they used his fears against him. It was terrifying. When the tree attacks Griffin in the remake there is no connection. The tree just randomly comes to life and attacks him. All the scenes involving the spirits are like this. There is no rhyme or reason behind any of it. It just happens because it did in the original so why shouldn’t it happen here? Zero creativity. All new scenarios should have been invented and that’s all there is to it.
Lazy and worthless, this remake of the fantastically scary Poltergeist is a complete bust and further proves that not all movies need to be remade. It does nothing new with the property and repeats everything that went down in the original with none of the same impact. I went in with an open mind but I should have known better. I hope this bombs because I definitely do not want to see Poltergeist II: The Other Side remade. I shudder at the thought of how Preacher Kane would be bastardized in that unholy mess should it ever come to pass.
At least the 3D worked.
1 out of 5