Posted May 22, 2015 by Daniel Hodgson in
Remaking Poltergeist is antithetical to what generally makes a horror film scary.
Can you name a horror movie that hasn’t been remade? Jason, Freddy, and Michael Meyers have all been reborn on screen. The haunted house of The Amityville Horror has seen theaters twice-over. So have Carrie, Evil Dead, Maniac, Prom Night, and The Stepfather. Was not a Poltergeist remake inevitable?
This second version is a product of its time, which means three things: CGI-effects, 3D, and jump-scares, none of which are scary (we’re lucky that it’s not a found-footage movie). At times, Poltergeist is laughably bad in its execution, with the ending being particularly clumsy.
But just as often, it is creepy, atmospheric, and tense. Cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe, who lit the supernatural-thriller The Others back in 2001, once again creates an ominous world with light and shadow, particularly a scene in which a frightened young boy, Griffin, descends a dim staircase, to find his younger sister, Madison, talking to the television in the middle of the night. “They’re here…” she says, repeating the iconic line from the original film.
Madison (Kennedi Clements) is the precocious, impressionable one. Her older sister, Kendra (Saxon Sharbino), is in those terrible teen years, and is generally a royal bitch. Griffin (Kyle Catlett), the middle child, is an omniphobic. Poltergeist is his story, how he must overcome his fears to rescue Madison from the poltergeist, who has taken her into the spirit realm.
The poltergeist—the collective anger of the spirits trapped in the house—is mischievous, when it needs to be malevolent. The demons from The Exorcist and Paranormal Activity, the evil spirit of the mirror in Oculus, had evil intentions, to take physical possess of the body, and to take lives and destroy families. On the other hand, the poltergeist wants to scare you for the sake of scaring you, and lacks a frightening motivation.
The dialog is another weak spot. Griffin confesses how he left Madison alone, and blames himself. Then an additional, unnecessary line of dialog about it. Later on, he explains why he chooses to be brave, when his reasons are obvious. This movie assumes you’re an idiot, with no understanding of human behavior.
Performances are fair at best from talented thesps. Sam Rockwell is a talented, likable actor, but frankly, he’s miscast as the family’s father. He’s too quirky as a performer for an archetypal character; the role needs an Everyman. Catlett gives the film’s best performance, his angst and terror feel genuine.
There is a familiarity to Poltergeist that hurts the film. Having seen the original, we know what’s coming and where it’s going. Add the fact that this material has been mined five times now by the Paranormal Activity franchise, and you have to ask, did we really need this movie? Sure, everything else has been remade. But with rare exception, they shouldn’t have been.
What the scariest movies of the last year have in several things in common. Oculus, The Babadook, and It Follows are original ideas. They are not remakes, reboots, or sequels. They do not rely on jump-scares. They are low-budget, independent films. Remaking Poltergeist is antithetical to what generally makes a horror film scary. Sure, some remakes are terrifying, and a few Hollywood horror films are frightening, but they are exceptions to the rule. 2 stars.