It’s Here: A Review of Poltergeist (2015)

Release Date: May 22nd 2015

Director: Gil Kenan

Country of Origin: United States

Language: English

Runtime: 1 hour 33 minutes

After reading far too many of the reviews beforehand, my opinion of the Poltergeist remake was pretty dismal. First of all, remakes of classic movies rarely work as they will inexorably fail to match up to the original. As the old adage goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t remake it”. Then there’s the fact that the original Poltergeist, one of the most canonical haunted house movies of all time, was only made in 1982. The film is barely older than I am and, with my quarter-life crisis firmly behind me, I hardly feel like a makeover is entirely necessary for either of us. The remake undoubtedly had large boots to fill and, as the trailers mounted and the box o’ clowns loomed large over the main characters (you’ll get it when you see it), it began to feel like it was going to fall far short of the mark.

Or so I thought as I settled into my seat in a half-empty cinema and scarfed down my popcorn with bitter scepticism. Yet, in spite of the raging critic stewing deep within me, I was pleasantly surprised. In the original, father Stephen Freeling (Craig T. Nelson) is a successful real estate developer moving in to one of his employer’s many properties, while in the remake Eric Bowen (Sam Rockwell) has just been made redundant and, with the family’s finances slowly waning, is forced to downsize. The radical upheaval of the storyline was a change I welcomed as I felt it made the premise far more relatable to a modern audience. Long before chairs start flying and children grace televisions with their grubby mitts, the looming threat of poverty creates a tension that many people today know all too well.

Sam Rockwell delivers a superlative performance as the father struggling with recent unemployment. We feel every beat as he desperately tries to make ends meet, keep up appearances for his kids and inject a little light-hearted humour into their lives. His portrayal is both painfully funny and poignantly tragic, as the thin veneer of bravery with which he’s met financial crisis slowly starts to slip away. Across the board most of the performances are solid and believable. This is a true family dynamic, and a family you find yourself easily caring about.

Jared Harris delivers a slick performance as Carrigan Burke, the film’s replacement for the iconic Tangina Barrons (Zelda Rubinstein), which is reminiscent of both Lance Preston (Sean Rogerson) and Houston Grey (Mackenzie Gray) in Grave Encounters. The only disappointing performances come from the other paranormal investigators, who are so bland and irritating as to be utterly forgettable.

Where the film tragically fails, and where it desperately slips into mediocrity, is in the horror element, or lack thereof. The film effectively pays homage to its forefather in several sequences but fails to match up to the nail-biting fear and atmosphere of sheer terror that the original managed to create. Where the first film had me peeking from behind pillows and begging for respite, the remake had me quietly smirking or thinking to myself “well that was quite good”. There is a particularly inspired sequence using shadows and the spirit world itself is presented both artistically and effectively, but at no point in the film did I feel afraid. Part of me was aware that what I was seeing was horrifying, perhaps even scary, but the major pitfall is that I’d seen it all before and, more importantly, I’d seen it done better. Something about the slimy, grotesque, amorphous special effects of 1982 made the movie terrifyingly visceral, while the crisp HD remake left me feeling more bedazzled than frightened.

The film purports to be a slow-burner, starting off gently with a few nervous jokes, decoy scares and the odd box o’ falling clowns (seriously, you’ll know what I’m talking about when you see it), but at the halfway point it unexpectedly ploughs headlong into a fast-paced sequences of mega scares. It’s as if the Poltergeist had been otherwise occupied for the first 30 minutes, then suddenly remembered that he was supposed to be haunting this family and thought he’d rush through a week’s worth of work in the space of a few minutes. This part of the film appears to crush many of the much-loved sequences from the original film together to form some deformed, hybridised bastard child that should have never been. For a film that starts off so gently, it suddenly felt as though I was being punched in face.

With all that in mind, Poltergeist 2015: Poltergeistier was perhaps not an entirely necessary venture but it certainly wasn’t as terrible as I first thought it would be. From the comedic to the horrific, the film has some lovely moments and adequately pays tribute to its predecessor. I recommend that you head into the cinema with an open-mind and remember that, whether you like them or not, remakes will always have their place in the horror community. The least we can ask of them is that they honour the original and add a few interesting touches of their own, and Poltergeist does just that.

A whole dang box o’ clowns

Acting: 7/10, overall the acting was promising and the family dynamic felt real

Storyline: 5.5/10, it’s difficult to judge a remake based on its storyline but I felt they manage to update the original concept effectively and make it relatable to a modern audience

Fear Factor: 5.5/10, the film is punctuated by some genuinely creepy moments that are skilfully done, but tragically these are undercut by the more fast-paced sequences of the film, which happen far too early on

Overall: 6/10, this rating is based purely on the film’s own merit alone. Were I to compare it to the original, it would rank much lower

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It’s Here: A Review of Poltergeist (2015)

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