Director: Gil Kenan
Cast: Rosemarie DeWitt, Sam Rockwell, Jared Harris and Jane Adams
Running Time: 93 minutes
Release Date: May 22nd
Although its authorship has been debated ever since its release, the original Poltergeist, an undisputed horror classic, was the perfect marriage of writer-producer Steve Spielberg’s family unit drama and sense of wonder with director Tobe Hooper’s grimy grindhouse approach. What’s strangest about its remake is that in a time of re-threads of familiar properties, that it hasn’t come any sooner. Now seems the perfect time for it too, where its focus on spectral malevolence in the home — already a huge success for Paranormal Activity — and an update of ghosts in the TV shifted to laptops and smart phones.
The people behind it seem intelligent choices to update too: horror maestro Sam Raimi produces; Gil Kenan, whose previous works include spooky home film Monster House and spooky home short film The Lark, directs the parlour tricks; The Others Javier Aguirresarobe cinematographer lenses it; and its got Pulitzer Prize winner David Lindsay-Abaire handling the script duties. And that’s to say nothing of small but impressive cast of DeWitt, Rockwell, Harris and Adams. Yet where the original traded on marvel and terror, its predecessor is a showcase of cynicism and banality.
Recently laid off by those corporate fat cats at John Deere, Eric Bowen (Rockwell) packs up his family to move to a smaller and more affordable home while he tries to get back on the employment ladder. It’s your typical American suburban neighbourhood and home; it spans three floors, has a large garden and garage but is just not like the last place for them. Almost immediately, strange things start to happen before the Bowen’s daughter, Madison, is absorbed into the TV by the spirits of the undead the Bowen’s house just happens to be plonked on top of.
Poltergeist‘s main issue is how it follows the original’s exact beats but strips away everything that rounded it out and made it feel fun. It’s tonally not right, unable to decide whether it wants to make you laugh or terrify you — its biggest scare, no joke, involves a squirrel. It leans a little too heavy on recent horror success like Paranormal Activity and Insidious, even creating a weak CG fun-house version of the latter’s astral plane. Rockwell and DeWitt lend indie credibility but are given short shrift, struggling with lame character tropes of struggling writer and unemployed father.
There are some nice touches, like Aguirresarobe’s camera haunting the frame and the 3D being surprisingly eye-popping. Jared Harris, as a spectral chasing reality celeb, is tremendous fun, shambling through like a wedding of vagrant sea captain and Brendan Grace’s father of the bride skit. Still, for fans of the original, you’ll pine for it instead, for newcomers, you’ll wonder what all the fuss was about in the first place.