Poltergeist (Movie Review)

Poltergeist (Movie Review)
7 10


PLOT: The Bowen family moves into a house that has been built over an old cemetery. Chaos ensues. You know what happens.

REVIEW: It shouldn't be seen as blasphemy that I liked the Ghost House-produced POLTERGEIST remake, but it probably will be. I get why, but I think the truth of the matter is we should actually be grateful when a remake of a beloved property is both reverential to the source material and entertaining on its own merits. Director Gil Kenan's version is, to be sure, incredibly faithful to the 1982 Tobe Hooper-Steven Spielberg classic, right down to many sequences playing out the same exact way, but he's obviously made an effort to bring his own style to the familiar plot. POLTERGEIST ends up being a satisfying watch, and no one is more surprised than I am.


You know the story, and I'm not going to recycle it too much - screenwriter David Lindsay-Abaire has already done that. A family of five moves into a new house (they're the Bowens now instead of the Freelings) and it becomes quickly apparent - especially to the two younger children - that there's something very "off" going on. The two have different takes on it, however; Griffin (Kyle Catlett) is terrified of the things that go bump in the night (not to mention that box of grotesque clowns in his room), while Madison (Kennedi Clements) is entranced by the mysterious voices she hears coming from the closet and television. Out of work parents Eric (Sam Rockwell) and Amy (Rosemarie DeWitt) don't pay much mind initially - Griffin has a history of freaking out over nothing - but things change when... well, you know, their daughter is kidnapped by poltergeists.

Lindsay-Abaire's script plays like a greatest hits version of the original, every necessary spooky scene has been recreated with a few new twists. Many of the tender character moments of the original have been sacrificed, which is the biggest shame, although Rockwell and family are so inherently likable that you'll still manage to sympathize with their plight. (The two kids are very good.) Running a scant 93 minutes, the film moves very swiftly, and while it doesn't pack the epic emotional or visceral wallop of the original, it gives you a complete experience. You want an hour and a half of good-natured horror, you get your money's worth.

Oddly, the remake is tamer than the original in the scare department, even though Hooper's version is, of course, rated PG. The memorable frights the '82 version pounded into our skulls - the face being torn off, those slimy skeletons popping up out of nowhere - aren't anywhere to be found, replaced by more innocuous chills. Make no mistake, Kenan can get a jump out of you, and the audience I saw the film with had a blast screaming their heads off, but the severely intense horrors provided by the original film are legendary, and the new POLTERGEIST can't touch them. (If there's a major difference in that department, it's that Kenan brings us into the ghostly world where Madison is being held, which is kind of cool yet still not very creepy.)


It is, however, very entertaining, and I'll take entertaining any time. Its entertainment value stems mostly from Kenan, who clearly cherishes the original. He knows how to move the camera, letting it glide and creep along hallways and rooms; there's no annoying rapid-fire editing to manufacture a scare. The director is also having fun with the material, not letting it sink into dark and gloomy territory; I feared POLTERGEIST would resemble other Ghost House pictures or even the INSIDIOUS films, but it doesn't get bogged down in morbidity. It has a bouncy air, wants to treat you to an experience akin to walking through a haunted maze; you get jolted, but you laugh and smile. It's sort of refreshing to see a scary movie that just wants you to have a good time as opposed to immersing you in a grim, oppressive mythology.

The cast is having fun, too. Rockwell is, as can be expected, his very laid-back, sardonic self, but he musters up some genuine emotion in a handful of scenes, as does  movie wife DeWitt. Neither can replace Craig T. Nelson or JoBeth Williams (she is so goddamn great in the original), but they do what's needed. I've already mentioned that the two little kids are splendid (especially Catlett), and older daughter Saxon Sarbino is perfectly fine, if a little underutilized. The highlight is Jared Harris, playing a ghost hunter named Carrigan Burke. This is the update of the Zelda Rubenstein character, and this is where the filmmakers have wisely diverted from the original. Tangina was a unique creation played by a very unique actress, she can't be replicated by a long shot. With Burke, Harris channels Robert Shaw's Quint, a scarred and crusty hunter determined to crush out every last demonic entity. Like the rest of the film, Burke isn't meant to be taken with the utmost seriousness, he's there to be enjoyed. Harris succeeds along these lines, as does POLTERGEIST.



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