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Poltergeist (2015) – film review

June 10, 2015

POLTERGEIST

Unwanted perhaps, but this remake deserves a chance.

Reviewed on Friday 5th June 2015

poltergeist-2015-television

Directed by Gil Keenan. Screenplay by David Lindsay-Abaire. Starring: Sam Rockwell, Rosmarie DeWitt, Saxon Sharbino, Kyle Catlett, Kennedi Clements,     Jane Adams, Susan Heyward, Nicholas Braun and Jared Harris. Running time: 93 mins.

When their youngest daughter is abducted by spectral entities from beyond, an everyday suburban family seek help from a TV ghost hunter in a bid to get her back.

With virtually every big studio sci-fi, fantasy or horror release from the summer of     ‘82 now remade or sequelized (Star Trek II, The Thing, Tron, Mad Max, Blade Runner; although Spielberg’s E.T. still remains conspicuously absent) – I guess it was only a matter of time before Poltergeist recieved a millennial update. And having no particular nostalgia for the ‘82 original, which itself was a rip-off – sorry, homage, to an old episode of the 1960s TV series The Twilight Zone entitled ‘Little Girl Lost’,   I went into this remake with no baggage and little to no expectations and came away having had a surprisingly good time with it.

With the changeover from analog to digital TV signals in the decades since the release of the original Poltergeist, we shouldn’t be at all surprised the original was     ripe for a remake. After all, auds today wouldn’t necessarily understand that back then television stations would go off the air for a number of hours overnight; with the loss of the analog TV signal creating that eerily shifting, flickering white noise which plays such an important role in the original Poltergeist.

Produced under the banner of Rob Tappert’s and Sam Raimi’s Ghost House Pictures (The Grudge, Evil Dead, Drag Me To Hell) and directed by Gil Keenan (Monster House, City of Ember) – this remake of Poltergeist is surprisingly reverential to the original; while at the same time presenting interesting new ways of doing things.     The moment where six-year-old Maddie reaches up to touch a hand on the other     side of the TV screen – only to be met with many more – is particularly effective     and unsettling.

Keenan’s direction is fine – if unremarkable. Although there is one nicely-staged sequence where the prowling camera moves throughout the house: picking out various electrical appliances and gadgets lighting up as the unseen spectral entities go from place to place. The inference being; these entities are able to enter the physical world via electricity – which probably explains why we are treated to so many ominous shots of high tension wires which overlook the house; a threat which is never ultimately developed or pays off in the long run (perhaps this was meant to be a way in to a possible sequel – where the entities could travel along the high tension wires to wherever the family move to).

poltergeist remake cast

The economic screenplay by David Lindsay-Abaire (Robots, Oz the Great and Powerful) updates the family dynamic to better reflect current social and domestic concerns. And society’s current preoccupation with digital devices is amusingly incorporated, giving the domestic family scenes a certain believability. And speaking of the family; one of the greatest strengths of this remake is the appealing cast. Sam Rockwell’s character of the father is quite unlikeable and grouchy to begin with, but as events unfold – he becomes far more endearing by the end. And six-year-old Kennedi Clemments (in her feature debut) bears a striking resemblance to Heather O’Rourke in the original; as the abducted youngest child, Maddie. British thesp Jared Harris plays reality TV show host Carrigan Burke – a retooling of a pivotal role originally made famous by 4’3” Zelda Rubinstein. Sporting scars from previous encounters with spectral entities (which he takes great delight in explaining to eldest daughter Kendra), Burke is less Tangina from the original and more Robert Shaw’s character from Jaws. And the awkward sexual chemistry which is evident from the outset between Carrigan Burke and lead parapsychologist Dr. Brooke Powell (Jane Adams) is amusingly sweet.

My only real issue with Poltergeist 2015 is that; running at a brisk 93 minutes; the film powers along at such a pace – there is little opportunity for the deliberate building of tension or suspense (an issue which seems to dog most contemporary studio horror fare these days; as the overreliance on jump scares seems to be replacing the careful crafting of mood and the building of suspense more and more). The original cut allegedly ran for 101 minutes; with 7-8 minutes culled for this theatrical release; which most likely accounts for the seemingly rushed pace of the first half. Perhaps     if this 7-8 minutes is reinstated for the Blu-ray release, the pacing will be restored.

poltergeist 2015 into the closet

During promotional interviews he gave for the film, Sam Rockwell described this remake as more of an adventure movie – than an out-and-out scare fest. Although I’m hard-pressed to understand why he would label it as such. Perhaps it was thought the film didn’t really deliver the goods as far as scaring an audience. This is not to say the film is without its creepy and intense moments: Maddie’s aforementioned encounter with the TV, the vision of a monstrous black-eyed Maddie in the closet, Powell’s terrified research assistant menaced by a drill bit through the wall. There are also several nods to scenes from the original – the son’s encounter with the scary tree outside his room; the clown doll coming to life; the house imploding at the end. But unlike the original; in this version, we actually do venture into ‘The Other Side’ and what we find there is less like the disappointing blue void we saw in Poltergeist II: The Other Side and more like H.R. Giger’s original concept paintings which went unused in Brian Gibson’s 1986 sequel. And there’s even a nod to Craig T. Nelson’s Tequila worm scene from Poltergeist II.

While this 2015 Poltergeist may pale in comparison to the 1982 original in the minds of some nostalgia tragics, for those willing to leave their baggage at the door and forget the original ever happened, this is quite an enjoyably creepy little movie in     its own right.

3.5 stars out of 5

Star ratings: 1 – poor / 2 – below average / 3 – good / 4 – excellent / 5 – unmissable

Viewed at the Event Cinemas Megaplex Marion, Adelaide, June 5th 2015.

Greg Moss is a film school graduate with a background in directing music videos     and is currently seeking representation as a screenwriter. He likes creative people, feeding the cat and watching genre movies. Greg can also be heard on the Blu-ray commentary track for the 1980 sci-fi thriller Saturn 3, out now from Scream Factory.

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4 Comments
  1. I’ll watch this eventually but I love the original (my first ever VHS rental!) so much that this remake will always seem a bad idea. The latest thing with these remakes is when reviews state “not as bad as it might have been” as if thats a positive. Most of them shouldn’t even exist, Hollywood should be making original movies or at least movies based on all those books that would make great movies. But anyway rant over. At least this doesn’t look all bad. See now I’m doing it!

    • gregory moss permalink

      Wow – first ever VHS rental! No wonder it holds a special place. 🙂

      As for this remake – trust me, it could be worse. It could’ve been as awful as that remake, prequel, reboot (or whatever the hell it was) of John Carpenter’s THE THING a few years back. I could go into a massive rant about that – but I won’t. Better to just imagine it never happened. 🙂

      • A friend of mine absolutely LOVES that Thing sequel. So it seems every film has its fan!

      • gregory moss permalink

        I’m still amazed they dumped all the practical effects which had already been designed and built for The Thing 2.0 – and replaced them with shoddy game-quality CGI at the last minute. So looking forward to the upcoming HARBINGER DOWN – which utilizes all those very same practical effects and creature designs meant for The Thing 2.0.

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