If one were to look up the word “unnecessary” in the dictionary you wouldn’t be surprised to find the 2015 remake of Poltergeist there as a prime example. When Tobe Hooper and Steven Spielberg brought horror to the suburbs back in 1982 they scared the pants off of countless people and now 33 years later we get a remake that would consider itself lucky if it managed to scare a toddler. (Beware some spoilers below)
In this update, all the character’s names have been changed to protect the original, gone is the fun-loving Freeling family of the 1982 film as we now have the Bowens, a group of dysfunctional idiots who just happen to land a rather unscrupulous asshat for a realtor who leaves out the fact that their house is built on an old cemetery. First, we have Eric Bowen (Sam Rockwell) who has recently lost his job, and then there is Amy (Rosemarie DeWitt) his stay at home wife and struggling author, followed by their oldest daughter Kendra (Saxon Sharbino) who is your stereotypical teen girl who hates where the family is forced to move, then there is Griffin (Kyle Catlett) their son who is afraid of everything, and finally, but surely not least, we have Maddie (Kennedi Clements) who talks to imaginary friends.
I’ll try not to draw too many comparisons between this film and the original and aside from the few things dropped in as if from a remake checklist there isn’t a lot that is similar, but the biggest change to be found here is in having the family moving recently into the house. In the original film the Freeling family had lived in the suburban housing development of Cuesta Verde for quite some time – the dad was a successful realtor with an honest-to-goodness happy family life – so when things start to go wrong we actually care about what is happening. The remake has more in common with the 2013 film The Conjuring as they both deal with a financially struggling family moving into a new home that unfortunately turns out to be haunted, but once again The Conjuring worked because you liked that family while the Bowens, as a whole, are so annoying I’d have tossed them into a supernatural portal myself given half the chance.
At ninety-three minutes the film has no time to waste to get to the “good stuff” as almost immediately little Maddie is talking to invisible friends – which is never a good sign in a horror movie – the closet is revealed to be electrically charged and comic books magically stack themselves. Like many crappy films of this genre, the adults are completely oblivious to the strange goings-on and whenever Griffin tries to explain what he’s seen the parents ignore him. This horrible trope is always painful to watch, and worse here because the original beautifully jettisoned that bit of stupidity by having the mom witness the weirdness from the get-go.
Director Gil Kenan, assuming his audience is about to get up and leave, then throws the film into overdrive. While the parents are out at a dinner party the house goes into complete horror attack mode; Griffin is jumped by an evil clown doll, Kendra is attacked by a corpse that bubbles up out of the floor in the basement and then Griffin is yanked out of the house by an evil CGI tree. The director basically grabbed cool elements from the original film and then crammed them all together at the thirty-minute mark but with barely the briefest of set-ups.
Meanwhile at the dinner party – with characters we have not seen nor will ever see again – Eric and Amy find out about their post-cemetery neighbourhood and it’s treated like a funny anecdote that everyone knew about, that is everyone but these two suckers. When Eric and Amy arrive home they are startled to see their son being thrashed about by the Whomping Willow from Harry Potter. The tree lets Griffin go because…I have no idea, I guess its bark was worse than its bite. The parents race inside to find a traumatized Kendra and a missing Maddie and after a quick search of the house, they discover that their daughter is somehow stuck in the television set.
This movie rockets along with pretty much no character development or plot, it could have been called “Loud Noises: The Movie” for all the thought that went into this script. Things get worse when the paranormal investigators arrive whose sole purpose seems to be informing us of the house’s motivations, and it’s clear the only way they could have come by this information is by reading the script. There is a ridiculously stupid moment when one of the investigators asks Griffin if his unemployed dad isn’t making all this up to get a reality show, this after he saw a chair fly through the air and shatter against a wall. Eventually, they have to bring in the big guns and they call in professional ghost hunter Carrigan Burke played by the awesome Jared Harris, but who was apparently told to do Father Merrin from The Exorcist by way of Quint in Jaws.
The cast is uniformly awful, even actors such as Sam Rockwell and Jared Harris who have done stellar work in genre films in the past are clearly phoning it in here, and the effects are even worse. In the original film, the production crew used real human skeletons to save a buck, but for the remake, we get bargain basement CGI. I’m not saying filmmakers should rob graves to get an authentic look but computer graphics from your old Commodore 64 is not a proper alternative.
There were a couple of effectively creepy moments in this film, but not enough to make it worth your while. This looks to be one of those films that were assembled by committee, processed like fast food, and then released with the hopes of catching a little nostalgia boost from the original. So, in conclusion, this film was neither scary, contained a cast of unlikable characters, and should be avoided at all costs.
I do look forward to that clown doll teaming up with Annabelle.
• Who buys a house after getting laid off?
• Griffin finds a human bone while digging in the yard. So people here were buried without coffins?
• Whenever an adult experiences a paranormal terror event they keep it to themselves, even though they are trying to figure out what’s going on and shared information may be a good idea.
• Griffin finds a hidden closet full of creepy clown dolls. We never find out why they were there or who owned them, all we get is “People collect weird stuff” from the dad as an explanation.
• Trees smashing through windows and hauling out a screaming kid, surprisingly, does not attract attention from the neighbours.
• The house exploding in a column of light, as if someone had opened the Ark of the Covenant, also brings no notice from the neighbours.
This is a generic paint-by-numbers horror film that stuffs in elements from the original but without bothering to work them in organically, resulting in a loud but unengaging mess.