With recent franchise releases such as “The Conjuring”, “Insidious”, and “Paranormal Activity” stripping the original 1982 “Poltergeist” for parts, will this new 2015 haunted-house chiller raise the bar or never escape the shadow of its predecessor?
Synopsis (Warning: May contain spoilers, duh!)
The Gist of It: When a family’s five-year-old daughter is sucked into the supernatural realm by restless spirits, her hapless parents turn to a team of paranormal investigators to get her back.
This 2015 remake takes most of its cues from the original film as Eric Bowen (Sam Rockwell) and his wife, Amy (Rosemarie DeWitt), are crippled by the financial impacts of the Great Recession and look to downsize so that they can continue adequately providing for their three kids. They find what they’re looking for in a distressed but affordable home for sale that’s located in a commonplace development full of vacant properties on the outskirts of an Illinois town, where Amy attended university in her youth. Youngest daughter Maddy (Kennedi Clements) is excited to move in following the initial tour after conversing with some new invisible friends who speak to her from a mysterious bedroom closet. Anxiety-prone middle child Griffin (Kyle Catlett) isn’t thrilled to be settling into an attic bedroom, however, where an ominous willow tree looms over the house through a rooftop skylight. Teenage Kendra (Saxon Sharbino) displays visible disaffection with her new situation, preferring to remain in touch with her old life and friends via phone, text and video chat.
On the first night in their new home, while everyone else is asleep, Griffin discovers Maddy talking to the big-screen living room TV as it flashes and emits strange noises. Now Griffin has a good reason to feel worried, especially after noticing objects moving around the house on their own accord and discovering a box full of scary clown dolls stashed in a storage space. His parents just attribute these trepidations to his chronic anxiety, and it isn’t until the next night when they’re out to dinner at a neighbor’s house that they discover some disturbing information regarding their new home that sends them rushing back to check on the kids.
By the time they arrive, Griffin and Kendra have suffered supernatural attacks and Maddy has vanished completely. At their wit’s end, Amy and Eric decide to seek guidance from Dr. Claire Powell (Jane Adams) from the Department of Paranormal Research at Amy’s former university. Powell agrees to assist, bringing in her staff to wire the Bowen’s home with video cameras and monitoring equipment in search for their missing child. They soon determine that Maddy is able to speak to them through the TV set, but can’t provide any clues to her whereabouts. Powell concludes that the house is under the influence of a malevolent poltergeist that has abducted Maddy, holding her in a shadowy, in-between realm that they will have to access in order to rescue her before she disappears completely.
Unfortunately, the wrong moves outnumber the right ones, and the attempts that this “Poltergeist” makes to stand on its own merely underscore what the original film did so brilliantly. Whereas the first movie, for example, shocked audiences by setting a haunted-house movie in an otherwise ordinary and normal-seeming suburb, this one lets us know right away that something’s amiss; from the giant power lines nearby to the bones barely buried in the yard to the box of clown dolls in the attic. Yes. A box of clown dolls (As though a discovery like that wouldn’t make a new tenant immediately run screaming).
Although Rockwell’s character appears capable of holding the Bowens together in the face of financial and personal peril, it’s a rather under-written part that lacks the frequent character tics he’s exploited more memorably in smaller-scale films. DeWitt, who plays Rockwell’s wife, is the predictably supportive emotional core of the family, eventually driven to extremes by her daughter’s predicament. In a substantial role for a young actor, Catlett favorably impresses with his comprehensive grasp of Griffin’s neuroses and his determination to face them head-on in several pivotal scenes.
While this newer remake favored shock value and jump scares, the 2015 “Poltergeist” constructs far more fluid sequences with the camera gliding and hovering over its subjects, reserving the most impactful shots for a concluding sequence that’s, disappointingly, a little feeble.
Even though the 2015 remake wields a series of superb set pieces, such as a creepy tree springing to ankle-grabbing life and even some nail-biting business with a power drill, its sets an impressive standard, but it fails to sustain the tension. And when the original movie’s pint-size spirit medium is replaced by Jared Harris’s smirking Irish psychic, the film takes a turn for the tacky and results in a pointless over-explanation and a feeble climax.
“Poltergeist” plays like the most hurried of remakes, one born with rights ownership and title marketability rather than a burning desire on anyone’s part to do something interesting or provocative with a classic. The 1982 original remains unassailable, even more so when stood side-by-side with its pipsqueak descendant.
Ultimately, the characters may be new and the effects more sophisticated, but the plot remains essentially unchanged; if there were a list of ‘The Best Remakes of Classics’ this film would not be on it.
Favourite Line: “They’re here, the lost people.”
Release Date: 18th June, 2015