There are things we fear as children that we outgrow as we get older. There’s the monster under our bed that seems to always be lying in wait for us to expose our ankles. Then there’s that weird noise in the attic that is probably some vampiric beast waiting for you to fall asleep before it descends. Then there are spiders. Actually, you actually never outgrow that fear, but for all the rest, reason eventually helps you overcome them. The original Poltergeist is like that fear you have as a child, that is so intense and deep-seated, that even as an adult you still remember the way it made you feel. The new reboot has the unfortunate effect of coming off as a film you see as a child and realize how disappointing it truly is in real life.
The Bowen family has recently relocated to a new home. The father, Eric (Sam Rockwell), recently lost his job and is desperately looking for a way to support his family. The mother, Amy (Rosemarie DeWitt), is a writer who also takes care of the household. She currently is facing a writer’s block, but I’m sure her gamut of new experiences will change that soon. The children, Kendra, Griffin (Kyle Catlett), and Madison, are each adjusting to their new life in different ways. Kendra is getting a new phone, Griffin is trying not to be afraid of every single noise and shadow, and Madison is befriending the house cohabiters.
Everyone is acclimating in their own way, but luckily the house is more than welcoming, offering their open doors and open closets. Sometimes even open portals and open pits full of corpses. When Madison is taken by the house that was built on a burial ground, they need all the help they can get, so naturally they go to the paranormal studies department in a university, because that is apparently a thing that exists in the real world. When they prove to be inadequate, they must call the next best thing: Ghost Hunters-esque reality TV show star Carrigan Burke (Jared Harris). Yeah, that should be enough to take on the hundreds of spirits apparently located underneath that singular house.
Films like this incarnation of Poltergeist are underdogs. You desperately want them to be great and surpass their predecessors even though all the odds are stacked against them. They will always be haunted by the ghosts of their pasts, and the only way to get past them is to be more amazing than the film they’re being rebooted from. One great joke involving “swingers” and a (comical) rabid, CGI squirrel were not enough to save this doomed remake. That includes a good, laid-back performance from Sam Rockwell. The true hero (in a metaphoric and literal film story sense) was the young Kyle Catlett, who first got my attention in the little-known film The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet. He was one of the few characters who moved the story along, overcame his fears and emerged triumphant in the end. His acting played a great part in making him the hero, but so did the oversimplification of the overall story when compared to its origins.
Horror genre films thrive on the building of suspense and tension and then having it release in an explosive climax. This film lacked both of those elements, just dropping us right into the story and having the paranormal activity go from 0 to 100 within minutes. There is no slow-burn leading to a fiery inferno, just a series of unfortunate events leading to an equally predictable ending. The only explosive elements happened when the house itself blew up. The reason this story fell so flat is because it has already been told before, and even better I might add. One great crime a remake must never commit is to be made with the sole intention of trying to make money the film rights you currently own. Money is usually the byproduct of a good (or highly publicized) film. When a film is remade, there is a certain expectation that it will either change something from the original or be made much better than the film could have originally been made when it was first released. This film is guilty of these film crimes as it was created without any attempt at originality or even a concept at how to pace a horror film.
Poltergeist has too many skeletons in the closet, but unfortunately none of them add up to a particularly scary film. Despite the great talent and even greater source material, this film came off as a shallow phantom of its former self. Sometimes the ghosts of the past are too much to live up to in the present. With how unambitious this corpse of a film is, it would have been better if it had remained buried.
RATING: ★★★ (3/10 stars)