As a huge fan of the original Poltergeist I had extremely high hopes for Gil Kenan’s long delayed remake, and the release of a killer debut trailer, in addition to the prior announcement of cast-members Sam Rockwell and indie favourite Jane Adams, only increased this anticipation. Alas, it was not to be; Poltergeist is a wholly unnecessary remake that loses all of the edge and much of the fun of the original, replacing it instead with bad CGI, terrible dialogue and unlikeable characters.
Following virtually the exact same plot as the 1982 film, albeit with any vaguely interesting social commentary bleached out of existence, Poltergeist opens on the near-insufferable Bowen family (Rockwell, Rosemaire DeWitt, Saxon Sharbino, Kyle Catlett, and Kennedi Clements) as they search for a house within their price-range, a necessity considering that daddy Bowen has been retrenched. They find a suitable house with a decent price-tag in an area that’s apparently been hit with foreclosures (seeing a common thread here? Don’t worry, they don’t do anything with this), but low and behold this is no ordinary house, it is a spooky house that’s infested with the malevolent spirits of the dead. What follows are some truly terrible special effects, lazy jump scares, and a heap of poorly reimagined versions of classic scenes from its source material.
What a shame it had to be this way. Between It Follows, Unfriended, and Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead, theatrically released horror had been doing so well this year – it’s very telling that this film feels like it was made in the mainstream horror dead-zone of the late ’90s. Although the whole thing is never really enjoyable, it’s not walkout-ably bad, and there are (very) occasional great moments. Of particular note is a scene early in the film that sees a boy engulfed by a malicious tree, a teenager’s leg swallowed by a corpse-filled pit of mud, and an infant lured into a killer wardrobe. The script, however, detracts from these few visually arresting moments. Shockingly, it has come from a writer as talented as David Lindsay-Abaire, who is probably best known for penning the play (and subsequent screen adaptation of) Rabbit Hole. How he ended up writing this is anyone’s guest but luckily for him, the screenplay is only one of the film’s plethora of problems. Terrible performances, poor direction, unlikeable characters, they’re all here.
Perhaps most frustrating is an assumed knowledge of the first film; with a shorter runtime than it’s predecessor Kenan has only remade the scares and scenes which are absolutely vital to plot development, operating on the assumption that you already know how these moments are connected, rendering the inter-personal relationships and non-central plot elements supposedly skippable. The film’s most frustrating element is definitely a derisive attitude towards the 1982 original, as aspects of that film (for instance the existence of an ancient native American burial ground), gets name-checked in dialogue before being labelled stupid. It’s baffling that a film even dumber than its original would mock its predecessor for stupidity, which serves only to underline how idiotic this modern version is.
As such, it’s such a shame to see the Poltergeist name slapped on this garbage, as nothing more than a clearly inferior clone of the original. Hooper’s Poltergeist was so unique and had so much to offer – it was fun for the whole family with legitimately creepy scares, amusing dialogue, impressive symbolism, and hilarious social commentary. It’s clearly superior to this remake, which removes all of the dark narrative edge for adults, and clumsily ramps up the ‘nightmare-inducing’ scenes so as to alienate its younger audience, moving away from the kooky and spooky in favour of the loud and shocking. Who, then, is this film for outside of easily amused 15-18 year olds? The horror genre has moved so far beyond this sort of film, akin to those which defined the mid-to-late ’00s horror landscape, that it feels like little more than a discarded product from a bygone era.
In this sense, this film is nothing more than a missed opportunity. There has been a lack of decent family-oriented horror of late – Insidious, which is admittedly probably a bit too heavy going for the younger crowd, is the only thing that’s come close in recent memory – as we have turned our focus onto more understated indie flicks (The House of the Devil, It Follows), balls-out exploitation throwbacks (anything from Astron-6, Sharknado, Wyrmwood), and the emergent genre of a sort-of Platform horror (Open Windows, Unfriended), all of which operate on significantly lower budgets than this remake. Maybe it’s just that there’s just no place for family targeted spookfests in our current cinematic climate, but the Poltergeist remake feels phoned in, the antithesis to all of the above and even the original, films that value innovation over cheap scares unless the cheapness is the point (looking at you Sharknado). If only its $35 million budget was put towards something more worthwhile like a bunch of It Follows clones or a number of grossly exploitative fun-fests like Father’s Day.
Why did this get made? Surely the Poltergeist remake must have been sitting in production hell forever; it’s beyond me how it eventually accrued funding. The studio is clearly not proud of their involvement, giving it a comparatively minimal release after multiple delays,1 and why should they be? It’s tired, rehashed, lazy trash that doesn’t even manage to be fun. The only reason it’s not getting the lowest rating on our site is the fact that it’s not as offensively bad as The Gunman or last year’s The Equalizer, but it sure does come close. Avoid, even if you’re super curious; taking in less than $10 million USD over it’s opening weekend in spite of a massive advertising campaign, it will surely be dumped to DVD very shortly if you absolutely have to torture yourself with it.