Film Review: Poltergeist (USA, 2015)

poltergeist review

While not exactly a shot-for-shot re-make, Gil Kenan’s version of classic supernatural-horrorPoltergeist sticks fairly close to the original, at least when it charges into the brunt of the action. The 1982 original, from horror masterminds Tobe Hooper and Steven Spielberg, has been cemented into popular culture so the story should be familiar to most. You know, the one where one of the three children of the family is lured into some sort of ghost dimension and appears to the family behind a fuzzy television screen.

The visuals of hands against glass and closets swinging open may have been scarier back in the 80’s, but now the scares in this new Poltergeist are tame and play into ‘family friendly’ aesthetic of the film. While the movie as a whole just isn’t that effective or scary, there are at least some good, clever jumps here and there but they are so far and few between that if you were going into this film for the expected reason of being scared out of your wits, you are probably going to leave disappointed.

Though scares are lacking, Poltergeist still tells a decent story, morphing the original enough to fit in with modern times. You have drones and tablets incorporated into the film really well in a refusal to backdate the film and keep it in contemporary times.

Sam Rockwell and Rosemarie DeWitt are capable as the parents of the family-of-five, sharing a likeable on-screen chemistry, with Rockwell getting in some genuinely funny stabs to lighten the mood briefly before all hell literally breaks loose. The film wastes little time in getting to the big blown scares and house-against-family battle, and the pacing suffers because of it.

The original Poltergeist was confident in it’s build-up, creating an atmosphere that was effectively tense and is unfortunately missing here. The hauntings escalate quickly, and the fact that the house is built on a former cemetery is established quickly while the parents are away at a dinner and the children are terrorised at home. This sudden of explosion of evil is quite surprising when it happens, especially with the films commitment to throwing everything at you once. What you’re treated to is a very loud, very stressful series of events that leads to the infamous TV-trapping, sparking the second half of film and bringing in Jared Harris as Carrigan Burke, a reality TV show personality that deals with ghosts for a living.

Burke and his ex-partner, the initial investigator played by Jane Adams, quickly establish that the hundreds upon hundreds of dead that were resting on this former grave site need a live body to help them move on. That live body is obviously the missing youngest child, Madison (Kennedi Clements), who the dead hold captive in the technology-tied universe.

Dialogue here is questionable, in particular lines given to Rockwell’s character as he reacts to his daughter being inside of a TV. “If we call the cops, they’ll blame us” he says. I’m not quite sure how that one would work. All things considered though, the acting is quite decent, especially from the older cast members as they work with what they’ve got to make the script somehow flow seamlessly without overacting – and believe me, overacting would be incredibly hard not to do in this film. Even the child actors are capable despite their ridiculous trope-y roles as the creepy youngest child, the scared and awkward middle child, and the cool, rebellious teenager.

As the volume seems to climb higher and higher – and the neighbours unbelievably sleep through absolutely everything in the film – we sprint towards the end at a consistently fast pace. At just under 100 minutes, this reboot of Poltergeist wraps up as an entertaining enough, though really unnecessary, entry into the long list of faithful remakes no one needed to make.

Review Score: TWO AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Runtime: 93 minutes

Poltergeist is in Australian cinemas now