‘Poltergeist isn’t a bad film, but that doesn’t necessarily make it a good film…’
By Thomas Simpson
Poltergeist is the latest film to get the remake treatment. The 1982 original was co-written by Stephen Spielberg and Directed by Tobe Hooper; it’s considered a classic. The horror genre has evolved and regressed so much in thirty years, the 2015 version of Poltergeist had to produce something special to make its mark.
Eric and Amy Bowen (Sam Rockwell, Rosemarie DeWitt) are house hunting with their three children, when they come across a good deal. It’s in a quiet neighbourhood and it’s within their price range. Their son Griffin (Kyle Catlett) is easily scared. It doesn’t help that he hears strange noises from his bedroom and discovers his younger sister Maddy (Kennedi Clements) talking to the people in the TV. Parents being parents, they shrug off their son’s worries and leave the oldest sibling Kendra (Saxon Sharbino) to babysit while they go out.
When they return they find the house and their world turned upside down. Griffin is tangled up in a tree he claims tried to eat him and Kendra is in tears at being attacked by supernatural forces. As for Maddy, she is missing. Her voice emanates from the TV but she is nowhere to be seen. Realising they are dealing with otherworldly forces, the Bowens contact professionals to solve the mystery.
Poltergeist isn’t a bad film, but that doesn’t necessarily make it a good film, its main problem being that it just isn’t scary. Director Gil Kenan produces a couple of worthy fake scares, however they prove to be more effective than the legitimate attempts that follow.
Unfortunately there is little surprises to be had for anyone familiar with the original. The clown and tree attacks provide less impact here with the horrific mirror scene omitted for the new audience. That’s not to say Kenan can’t ramp up the tension. The drill set piece is edge of the seat stuff, it’s just a shame that instances like this are few and far between.
Pulitzer Prize winning playwright David Lindsay-Abaire wrote the screenplay yet it lacks any of the drama that he’s famous for. The Bowens’ are clichés with no real depth or conflict with the plot relying too heavily on the original with updated technology for contemporary viewers.
Kenan’s background in children’s films is evident here as Poltergeist plays out at times like an episode of Nickelodeon’s seminal kids’ series Are you Afraid of the Dark? There are scenes that would be deemed too distressing for younger audiences and there’s not enough material to frighten the older crowd. The film walks this thin line throughout but the end result is it’s too scary for children and not scary enough for adults.
That leaves Poltergeist inhabiting a limbo world much like the one where Maddy has been taken to. It’s inoffensive and regrettably nowhere near as fun or creepy as it should be. It’s unfortunate that the films influenced by the original leave the remake in the shade.
Thomas Simpson is a writer and filmmaker based in Glasgow, U.K. Find him on Twitter: @Simmy41.