MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Poltergeist’ Is A Reboot Nightmare

Film: Poltergeist
Starring: Sam Rockwell, Rosemarie DeWitt
Directed by: Gil Kenan

Thirty-three years after Tobe Hooper sent chills down the spines of audience members everywhere with his unique and thrilling Poltergeist film, a modern reboot has appeared with absolutely nothing new to share.

Directed by Gil Kenan, the 2015 version of Poltergeist borrows its core story from the original title, then attempts to twist the frame just enough with socioeconomic commentary to make things feel a bit more timely. A father, played admirably by Sam Rockwell, moves his disgruntled family into a foreclosure-hit neighbourhood after being laid off from his job with John Deere. The new home is located underneath power lines at the back of a cookie-cutter subdivision in the middle of America, and it doesn’t take long for the family’s three children to find a number of reasons they hate the new location. It’s the only place the family can afford, however, so they decide to try and make the best of it.

Before long, it becomes alarmingly clear that the things happening inside this seemingly average home are far from typical. In the original Poltergeist, the entities still living in the home began moving things around in such a way to almost amuse the new residents, but this time around all that fun and wonder has been stripped away and replaced with tired tropes already executed, often with better quality scares, in films like Insidious, The Conjuring, or even Sinister. That may be due to the fact all those films borrowed from the original Poltergeist, which is largely true, but the fact remains their existence causes this unremarkable reboot to feel a bit too familiar before the second act even begins.

The family’s youngest daughter, Madison, is eventually taken from the home by a group of lost souls who need the girl’s innocent soul to guide them from purgatory to the afterlife. The abduction sequence, which is pretty similar to the one in the original film, is the best moment of the entire film. It’s executed in a manner that would make Steven Spielberg happy, with just enough awe-inspiring visuals to make you forget the lackluster sequences that immediately preceded that moment on screen. For a few brief moments, the film hits the kind of creative and visually inspired moments one would hope all reboots aspire to reach, but it’s over almost as fast as it begins, and from then on it’s a constant stream of tired jump scare tactics that try (and largely fail) to keep you on the edge of your seat.

Blaming the decision to use 3D for the shortcomings found in Poltergeist is not really a fair argument to make, as it seems clear the film was converted after production had wrapped. That said, implementing this now far too typical visual trickery usually only results in brief scares or added depth to scenes ripe with exposition. If you fear screwdrivers coming through walls or toy clowns leaping at the screen, both of which happen a grand total of one time each, and you are really easily fooled by 3D conversion, then maybe you will feel this visual approach adds something to the film. Most, however, will not.

Though littered with problems and the overuse of tired tropes, some of which admittedly originated in the 1982 film, Poltergeist does success with its visuals and its cast. 3D use aside, the depiction of purgatory, as well as the gateway to the land of lost souls, offer the kind of eye-popping visuals moviegoers long to see on the big screen. Likewise, everyone on the cast delivers a grounded performance that you actually want to believe. Rockwell is the best at this, of course, as he has more or less become the go-to ‘average guy with sharp wit’ for low budget Hollywood films over the last half decade, but Rosemarie DeWitt’s turn as his wife is just as enjoyable. Jared Harris, though underutilized, also offers a wonderful turn as the ghost-hunting celebrity who arrives to save the day.

When all is said and done it is hard for me to believe anyone will be talking about the reboot of Poltergeist even a year from now, except to list the film amongst the worst remakes of all time. Though visually brilliant and admirably acted, this reimagining of Tobe Hooper’s iconic title lacks the inherent fun that made old school horror such a hit with moviegoers, deciding instead to implement a relentless series of genre tropes that are as dated as the material that inspired the film’s creation. Gil Kenan does his best to make the lackluster material pop, but I don’t know if anyone could have made this feature something you would never want to forget.


Written by: James Shotwell

James Shotwell
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