Poltergeist (2015)

There isn’t a shortage of remakes these days. The only thing consistent about them is that the source material has absolutely no bearing on the quality of the remake. That being said, I want to be clear from the outset that I’m not one of these guys who thinks that remakes are de facto bad. However, they do have to bring something new to the table that enhances the show. Remakes like The Thing and Heaven Can Wait did this in spades. On the other hand, Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes brought plenty of new stuff to the table; it just all happened to be complete garbage.

That brings us to Poltergeist (rated PG-13), a remake of the 1982 horror classic (which somehow managed to be rated PG). The backbone of the story is well-known and is largely retained in the modern incarnation. A family of five moves into a new home. Weird stuff starts happening that is largely centered around the children, especially the youngest daughter. It eventually becomes clear that evil spirits are the cause of the weirdness, and they kidnap said daughter into their world. The family then seeks to get her back.

This worked in 1982. It doesn’t work for the 2015 edition.

Let me be clear. It’s not that this version suffers in comparison to the original. It suffers because it just isn’t a very good movie.

Consider such key concepts as “why do these spirits want this girl so badly.” Seems reasonable to ask since it’s the keystone of the whole plot. The answer comes as “well, they need her to lead them into the light.” Instead of establishing what this “light” is, why it’s important, and so forth, we get a directorial hand wave and are told to move along. Nothing is ever explained on this front. This tactic is used on a couple of occasions, while the audience is left wondering why such things are a big deal. It’s almost like this version was banking on everyone having seen the original to fill in any confusing plot gaps.

Forget about new stuff being added to make the film better. The new stuff here? First, the family has money problems, which became irrelevant to the rest of the story. Second, the brother is a bigger character. This could have worked if it hadn’t been weighed down by pretty much everything else in the production.

The acting actually made this problem worse. It’s tough to do everything well, so if director Gil Kenan wanted to short plot elements in order to focus on the emotional toll experienced by the family, there wouldn’t have been as big of a problem. Instead, we get some solid performances by the kids, with special kudos to Kyle Catlett as the brother and Kennedi Clements as the kidnapped daughter. The latter had a fairly iconic role to fill after Heather O’Rourke in the original and did so admirably. But HooBoy. The adults were terrible. Sam Rockwell struggled as the embattled father. Oof. He needs to stick to comedies. Wooden and unconvincing, I still don’t know how this portrayal made it to the final cut. Rosemarie Dewitt was only slightly better as the mother, but it all comes down to neither being believable as parents who lost their daughter, much less as parents who have lost their daughter to evil spirits.

Ok, I’ll admit that Jared Harris is ok as the new psychic/exorcist guy and counterpart to Zelda Rubinstein’s character in the original, so there was one decent adult performance.

Even with all of this criticism, there still could have been a salvageable viewing experience if the production could have delivered on the fear factor. Even badly made horror movies can be good if they are scary enough. Poltergeist didn’t even make it on this level. Sure, there were some jumps but not much more. The best our 2015 installment could do is take the more intense moments of 1982 and try to turn up the volume a bit. You can almost visualize the conversation. “There was this creepy clown in the first one. If we use ten clowns this time, it will be ten times scarier!” No, it won’t. The ever-increasing build-up, the invasion of the supernatural into the ordinary life of the family, and so forth are what made the original so terrifying. CGI trees can’t match that.

So does the greatness of the original drag the modern release down even more? Indeed it does. While Poltergeist 2015 is a bad movie, its shallowness is truly on display when considered in light of Tobe Hooper and Steven Spielberg’s work. Even though it’s a horror film, Poltergeist 1982 was really a family movie. You saw this in almost every scene. The kids playing together, the parents playing with the kids, the parents’ frustration/fear/anger over what is happening while wanting to protect their other children, and on and on it goes. You really came away convinced that this was a family that LOVED one another. This is entirely absent now. Poltergeist 2015 is about building a semblance of plot around some familiar scary scenes and hoping people spend money to see it. You come away thinking that the kids care about each other regardless of circumstances. The parents? They are just glad it’s all over. Roll the credits.

I really can’t tell you to look for any strong Catholic content because there isn’t a whole lot of content at all, Catholic or otherwise. The brother character is very brave and faces his fears in a truly chivalrous fashion, so there’s that. Otherwise, I can’t get around that it’s mostly a bunch of empty dialogue wrapped around a core of scenes that were way creepier the first time around.

Offensive content is minimal. There is minor profanity and some suggestive behavior from the adults, but nothing graphic happens in that category. As mentioned, there are some attempts at scary, but even those are tame by modern (and 1982 to be honest) standards.

It gets half a tiara, solely on the strength of the children’s acting and the courage of the brother. The rest of the film could be burned without anyone missing much of anything.

Review by Throwback. Throwback blogs at Popin' Ain't Easy