Poltergeist (2015) Review

Posted: June 8, 2015 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

poltergeist_1sht_vera1_largeWritten by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

The horror film landscape is almost always dominated by various trends. In the last few years, the haunted house films have become exceedingly profitable and popular between the Paranormal Activity series, The Woman in Black, the Insidious series, Sinister, and The Conjuring being some of the most well-known. Though the subgenre has existed since the early days of cinema, the modern haunted house movies all owe a certain date to Tobe Hooper and Steven Spielberg’s 1982 film Poltergeist, which saw an average family afflicted by spirits from their home while paranormal experts attempt to save the family. I can’t say I love the film as much as some, but it is a very good movie which has rightfully earned a place in pop culture. Given how successful drawing the recent haunted house movies have been, it really isn’t surprising that Hollywood has decided to cut out the middle man of being inspired by Poltergeist and just straight up remake it instead.

The film opens with Eric and Amy Bowen (Sam Rockwell and Rosemarie DeWitt) meeting with a Real Estate agent to look at potential properties. Eric has recently been laid off and is looking for a cheaper home to accommodate his family. The couple find such a home, and move their three children in quickly. The teenage Kendra (Saxon Sharbino) is angry at having to a move, while young Griffin (Kyle Catlett) is frightened by most everything in the home. The only child who seems at peace is the youngest; Madison (Kennedi Clements).However shortly after moving in, odd things begin to occur. Inanimate objects move on their own, animals behave erratically, and the family’s electrical devices go haywire. The parents initially chock most of this up to freak occurrences and young Griffin’s fearful nature, but they come to realise a supernatural presence is at work when the children are attacked and young Madison is taken into the spirit world.

The central concern with Poltergeist was that the film would simply modernize the original without actually bringing anything new to the table and this is mostly true. Though the plot does make a few changes to the original film, this remake does follow the blueprint set before very closely. The beats and scares are all more or less exactly the same. As a result, not only does the film pale in comparison to the original, but it can’t even compete with contemporary haunted house movies, which have used the influence of Poltergeist in more creative ways. I mentioned a few films earlier, but James Wan’s Insidious and The Conjuring are especially indebted to Poltergeist, with the former essentially serving as a remake. However while those films had their own spin on the ghost mythology, rules, and style, this actual remake of Poltergeist is completely stale and uninspired. The few changes that are made are not only arbitrary, but are in fact worse. For example, the clown doll that attacks the young boy no longer belongs to the child, but is now something they just found in the house. First off, I don’t get why the family didn’t just throw this away, especially since the kid is horrified by it. More importantly, changing the toy to being someone else’s actually makes it less scary. Part of what made that moment in the original creepy is that the attack manifested itself as something the boy loved and trusted. However the biggest change comes in the cause of the hauntings. In the original, it was because the house was built on an Indian burial ground, which gave the film a nice subtext which was organic and unobtrusive. In the remake, it’s just a cemetery, and all claims to intellectual commentary and insight are jettisoned. And just to add insult to injury, at one point a character has a pandering line where he jokes, “At least the neighborhood wasn’t built on an ancient burial ground”.

There aren’t really any creative or new ideas to shake things up, and the set-pieces conceived by director Gil Kenan aren’t really exceptional either. In fact the filmmaking here is generally pretty subpar. The horror is not built to very effectively, the special effects used throughout look really bad (particularly for a modestly budgeted Hollywood production), and the lightly comedic tone in the last few minutes shatters any sense of suspense or tension which it may have built up. There are however some positives. The film does actually set up a number of small elements which do have pay-offs in the climax. These aren’t huge moments, but they work fairly work. I also liked most of the cast. Sam Rockwell and Rosemarie DeWitt are pretty charming as the parents and the pair give really natural performances. I don’t want to overstate their work here, both have done much better elsewhere, but their presence did elevate things here.

Poltergeist is every bit the lazy remake most assumed it would be. It brings so little to the table and the few ideas it does have are just poor choices. However even when removed from the context of the original, this is not a well-made film and would have been destined to be forgotten even if it had been an original IP. If you’re looking for a haunted house film, there are plenty of other better options out there, and it looks like even more will be coming out this year. And of course, we’ll always have the original. I guess if the remake did one thing right, it give me a greater appreciation for what Hooper and Spielberg did in 82, along with a desire to revisit that film.


  1. reel411 says:

    welp, figures.

  2. Dan O. says:

    Better than I expected it to be. Which may sound like faint praise, but still has to account for something. Nice review Dan.

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