An Unnecessary Remake

by Steve Pulaski

The sheer elegance and the amalgamation of two very different styles of the horror genre were precisely what made the original Poltergeist so effective and memorable. It wasn’t a choppy, vague exploration of the supernatural, offering a simple story and digestible explanations to the reoccurring paranormal activity without becoming too bogged down by exposition. In addition, we saw the blending of Tobe Hooper’s campy, low-budget style with Steven Spielberg’s Hollywood professionalism to great effect, as the project soon went from a questionably frightening horror film to a film that many could take seriously and believe.

Fast-forward three decades where films about the supernatural and reoccurring paranormal activity are a dime a dozen, with new films and attempts at franchises bombarding theaters every year, and it’s no doubt that the original Poltergeist has diminished in impact and effectiveness in the public’s eye, as well as the genre’s overall reputation. With that being said, the Poltergeist remake isn’t so much contemptible as it is unnecessary, despite doing a handful of things well in its attempt to not mimic the effect of the original film, but mimic the cash-flow it took in upon its release.

Directed by
Gil Kenan
Sam Rockwell, Rosemarie DeWitt, Kennedi Clements
Release Date
22 May 2015
Steve’s Grade: C-

The story is more-or-less the same as it was in 1982: a couple (Sam Rockwell and Rosemarie DeWitt) move into a new suburban home with their three children (Saxon Sharbino, Kyle Catlett, and Kennedi Clements) only to find increasingly odd supernatural occurrences plaguing their house. The poltergeists, different from traditional ghosts in the way that they interact with humans in a more violent, persistent manner, wind up taking the couple’s youngest child, who can communicate with the spirits due to her innocence, and withholding her from the family. Desperate, confused, and low on options, the couple wind up hiring a crew of reality TV paranormal investigators to try and extricate the house from the demons to get their daughter back.

To accentuate the positives here, the film is remarkably light-hearted, throwing in a surprisingly large amount of cheeky humor, almost acting quietly meta in its surprise that this project is actually happening. Never does the film take itself too seriously but never does it become a laugh riot, distracting from more frightening sequences. On top of that, the film definitely wants to try and remain loyal to the events of the first film, going the extra mile to carefully try and update, replicate, and even expand upon the situations from the original film. It’s a bold tactic that doesn’t diverge into a complete bastardization of source material, as seen in the loathsome Texas Chainsaw 3D.

However, the film is robbed of a single likable character. The couple here are far more mean-spirited and smarmy than in the original, treading dangerously close to the line of downright poor, condescending parents to their children. This is especially upsetting, given the ground Rockwell (The Green Mile, Seven Psychopaths,) and DeWitt (Margaret, Your Sister’s Sister) have covered before. Even the reality TV show characters are nothing but vague, uninteresting caricatures cloaked in contrived, ridiculous stereotypes.

Then there’s the fact that this film winds up being much more frantic and manic than the original film. Where the first film took a liberal two hours to cover its paranormal activity with a slowburn pace, the new Poltergeist races through plotpoints like it has a checklist and a stopwatch tethered to its script. There’s little time for development, and the very first sign of the supernatural occurs within the first five minutes of the film.

Yes, Poltergeist is not as deplorable as you might be expecting, but no, it’s still not worth your time in the grand scheme of things. There’s an interesting dichotomy occurring right now at your local theater; you could either go see a remake of a classic 1980’s film and funnel money into Hollywood’s uncreative idea fund, where remakes, ripoffs, and sequels are just waiting to be made, or you could support original, high-budget science-fiction/fantasy with the release of Disney’s Tomorrowland. Call my act at the local theater this weekend a wash, for I saw both, but you, dear reader, have a lofty decision to make at this moment in time.