Review: POLTERGEIST (2015)

By Mark Saldana

Rating: 2 (Out of 4 Stars)

The original Poltergeist is one of the first horror movies I watched as a kid.  With a milder PG rating, it was one of the few horror films that I could get away with watching without my parents’ restriction.  My argument, beside the rating, was that it’s a Steven Spielberg (produced) movie.  It’s from the guy who made Jaws and E.T.!  When I first experienced the awe, wonder, and the genuine frights and chills of the Tobe Hooper-directed movie on cable television, I was left stunned and too scared to sleep in the dark.  A few days prior to watching the remake, I revisited what I still consider to be a horror classic. In spite of its dated technology and other story elements, the movie still holds up to this day.

Hooper, Spielberg, cast and other crew left some beautiful and grand shoes to fill.  This re-envisioning of the “noisy ghost” story has a talented cast and attempts to do more with the modern resources available to filmmakers; however, screenwriter David Lindsay-Abaire and director Gil Kenan just cannot build the suspense and deliver the frights and thrills that Hooper and Spielberg are able to offer with their original movie.

Sam Rockwell and Rosemarie DeWitt stars as Eric and Amy Bowen, patriarchs of a small family struggling to start anew in a new town and neighborhood.  Recently laid off, Eric and Amy have been forced to move from their old home and hope to find success in a new setting.  As they get settled into the house, Eric, Amy, and the kids Kendra (Saxon Sharbino), Griffin (Kyle Catlett), and Madison (Kennedi Clements) begin witnessing strange phenomena which they believe to be supernatural.  After the evil forces which haunt home attack the Bowens and Madison gets abducted, the Bowens are forced to consult experts.

In addition to the near identical plot, David Lindsay-Abaire actually lifts word-for-word lines from Spielberg’s original script.  So, everything pretty much plays out as expected with a few changes and little to no surprises in the story.  With the exception of one well-paced. edited and directed scene that gave me goosebumps and made me jump a little, Kenan and editors Jeff Betancourt and Bob Murawski just cannot seem to pull off building suspense and delivering well executed scares.  The overall movie comes across as dull and flat.

Sure, the special effects are more modern and the filmmakers were able to create a few moments that were probably impossible in the early 1980s, but all the new bells and whistles are no substitute for original storytelling and superbly orchestrated sequences.  Hooper and Spielberg have those talents and their work on the original movie manage to pull off their story and thrills without all the modern innovations. As I previously stated, the 1982 version still holds up, therefore, making this new version completely unnecessary.

The cast members all perform adequately with each having at least one shining moment; but, the direction and script doesn’t really give the new cast writing that is fresh or dynamic.  I feel bad for Sam Rockwell and Rosemarie DeWitt, whose great work I have enjoyed in other higher quality movies.  However, I feel much worse for the younger cast members who only have a few other entries on their resume.  Their work is solid here, but I’d hate for the reputation of this movie to taint any further success when they probably deserve better.

I do wish to acknowledge a couple of performances which stood out for me.  I really enjoyed Jane Adams who stars as Dr.Brooke Powell, a paranormal scientist who attempts to help the Bowens.  Adams brings a delicate and intelligent charm to the bookish and awkward scientist her character is supposed to be.  I also really enjoyed the work of Jared Harris, who portrays  a reality television ghost hunter named Carrigan Burke.  He brings a much needed boitserous character to a film, sadly lacking in energy.

So, if one hasn’t seen either movie, my stern advice as a film critic is to completely ignore this dull attempt at a remake and seek out the 1982 version.  For those who know and love the Hooper/Spielberg masterpiece, just watch it at home.  Revisiting the horror classic will be a much more exciting and rewarding experience than spending money on the new one.

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