If you’re gonna do a remake, you’d better have a point – I mean beyond trying to make money off a recognisable franchise name. While some remakes rejig the story or concept on order to capitalize on modern trends or relevant social matters, other see it as a way to merely update some dated effects or defibrillate a tired series back into life. However, at no point during the watching of 2015’s attempt to revitalize Poltergeist did any of the above parameters seemed to be in use which beggars the question – what exactly was the Poltergeist remake for?
The original, directed officially by Tobe Hooper while Steven Spielberg allegedly loomed over him like a vast cloud of micro management, is, in it’s own way, a perfect slice of 80’s blockbuster that took full advantage of the downtime Industrial Light And Magic had between Star Wars movies that pushed the envelope of visual effects and gave that same Spielbergian sense of fear and wonder experienced in Close Encounters Of The Third Kind over to the world of the paranormal. To try and recapture that, you’d damn well better pull something impressive out of the supernatural ether or – much like those corpses in the Freeling’s swimming pool – you’ll be dead in the water.
After Eric Bowen was recently laid off, he and the rest of his sizable clan are trying to move house to a place that’s kinder to their budgetary needs, but even though his wife, Amy, is trying to be supportive, the family patriarch is feeling the pressure. Upon finding a place that suits their needs, they swiftly move in, but before you can say “white people in a haunted house”, weird shit starts occuring.
While 16 year-old Kendra is occupied with the horror of needing a new phone, 6 year-old Maddie starts talking to people through the television screen while 9 year-old Griffin finds a box full of creepy-ass old clown dolls in a previously sealed closet. The parents, naturally, simply smile and nod absent mindedly as their kids try to warn them, but matters upscale remarkably when the evil forces operating in the house set up their game and attack the two youngest children while Eric and Amy are out at a dinner party. Causing numerous diversions that sees Kendra attacked by black slime and Griffin bushwhacked by possessed clown dolls and then a malevolent tree, the spirits manage to spirit Maddie away to the other side in order to use her in order to finally pass over.
Clearly distraught (well, Amy is, anyway – Eric just looks like he can’t find his car keys), the family brings in a Paranormal Research department for help headed up by Dr. Brooke Powell who brings in further backup in the form of Carrigan Burke, an expert on the occult and a TV personality. Together they formulate a way to bring young Maddie back from the supernatural plane, but eager to help most of all is Griffin who is desperate to help his sister after abandoning her when all that supernatural shiznit was going down. Family time just got real.
I remember feeling something akin to unbridled hate when I first watched the Poltergeist remake as it seemed to play up to the very model of an unnecessary remake and then somw, however, watching it years later, I found it to be nowhere near the rage-inducing experience I once found it – but that doesn’t mean it didn’t noticably still suck, oh good heavens no. Poltergeist 2015 still comfortably remains the gold standard for overwhelmingly needless rehashes whose reason to exist is further negated by the fact that James Wan’s Insidious already took the basic points of Poltergeist and turned it into something far more vital and scary much in the same way The Fast And The Furious nullified the need for an official Point Break redo. While slickly shot, you’d think that Gil Kenan, i.e. the director of frickin’ Monster House would know how to put a ghost movie together, but instead everything about the movie is stunningly half-hearted with the movie simply becoming an inferior greatest hits package as it blandly reels off the original’s high points. The living tree, the killer clown doll, the collapsing house and the closet being a portal to the other side are all present and correct, but they all ironically lack the life and vitality these moments had back in ’82 and instead just feel like lame photocopies despite having far more advanced technology at its disposal.
Another weird aspect about the film is that when the movie does change something, it just doesn’t work. Take young Griffin for example; where his 1982 counterpart, Robbie Freeling was arguably surplus to requirements (although not as much as older sister, Dana, who never even got name checked in the sequel), here he’s kind of the hero of the piece as he quashes his fear of the unknown to be the one who ventures to the other side to save his sister. It’s a good plan on paper, but the side-effects are that it makes Eric and Amy look like impressively shitty parents, even though it’s the unconditional love for their children that wins through in the original.
Matters are increasingly hamstrung by the lead performance of Sam Rockwell, whose apathy for the project is physically palpable through the screen and who clearly looks like he’d rather be anywhere else but there every time he’s on camera. The result is hilariously damaging, as the silent scream reflected in his eyes simply plays like he couldn’t give a single, solitary fuck about anything that’s occuring to his own children and he’d rather be out bowling or something than dealing with this ghost shit. Similarly, his delivery is so non-committal and the scenes where hes supposed to be bonding with his children are so awkwardly staged and written, you suspect the next unstoppable force that comes for the Bowen children will be social services…
The rest of the cast are fine but bland and lack the distinct character of the often schmaltzy, but still memorable, Freelings; however Jared Harris’ Irish ghost hunter and his blarney approach to violently angry dead people is fun, even if he seems that he’s wandered in from another movie entirely.
Every now and the the movie stumbles on the odd memorable image (the other side being a replica of our world made up of wailing souls is admittedly pretty cool), but it simply isn’t enough to halt the feeling that if this movie hadn’t been made, it wouldn’t have affected the timeline in the slightest.
Come for the spooks, stay for Sam Rockwell apparently having an internal panic attack and then immediately wish you’d left earlier once the credits mercifully roll, Poltergeist ends up being so pointless, the hour and forty minutes you wasted watching it will haunt you for days.
It’s the only thing in the movie that will…
There is more evidence of Hooper constantly disregarding Spielberg’s plans and over-management with his trademark improvisation and disobedience, so let’s not forget that in the calculus of who gets concrete paving-over with insinuations of being the submissive in the relationship (by all accounts they both had a great mutual respect of the other… can’t say the same about some of the other department heads on the set, unfortunately).