Sam Raimi and Gil Kenan reimagine and contemporize the classic tale about a family whose suburban home is invaded by angry spirits. When the terrifying apparitions escalate their attacks and take the youngest daughter, the family must come together to rescue her.
Released in 2015 to relatively little fanfare, the remake of
Steven Speilberg’s Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist initially seemed like it had quite a few things going for it.
Produced by Sam Raimi, who was fresh off producing his critical and audience hit remake of Evil Dead, and starring future Oscar winner Sam Rockwell, the movie held quite a bit of initial promise whilst in development.
In typical remake fashion, Director Gil Kenan (Monster House) had even stressed that he didn’t want to make a remake, but more a reboot that existed in the same world as the original, a line that all fans want to hear.
By this point though, this was a line we had all heard before, and by the time the movie was released, it was clear that what we were getting was very much a by-the-numbers remake that would hit all the beats of the original film.
Sadly, it pains me to say that even giving the film a second chance rewatch, this remake is simply uninspired. For all Kenan’s talk of wanting to make a sequel/reboot, the new script ultimately changes up very little from the original film. Sure, some money troubles are introduced to give the family a little backstory, and more modern technology is used to update the movie to a modern era, but still, it all feels so lifeless and expected.
I think a big part of the problem actually comes down to Kenan as a director. At this point only known for helming the surprisingly decent CGI family flick Monster House, it’s almost like he’s going for a similar tone and audience with this remake, because the horror is severely lacking. Aside from one or two scenes, he almost seems to forget what genre’s he’s working in, turning a movie about an evil poltergeist entity into a semi-Ghostbusters style comedy. (Ironically enough, Kenan is one of the writers of the upcoming Ghostbusters 3.)
While Kenan shows his appreciation for the original, I think he ultimately does a disservice to it by broadening the concept and breaking it down into it’s most digestible components for an audience he doesn’t seem to think will understand it. Other directors are to blame for this one too, but I really hate it when writers have characters explain an incredibly simple concept to another character, so *we* the audience gets a lesson in what’s going on. This movie has the most brazen use of this concept i’ve seen in a while, and since the character it’s being taught to is a child, it can feel a little insulting as the audience.
The characters in this movie are also not especially well rounded, with their reactions and traits used to simply fit the beats of the story. For instance, the parents here are almost *too* quick to believe that they have a poltergeist and that their daughter has been abducted by a closet monster. I kept thinking I’d missed scenes because there is just no agency to what is going on through the acting. The daughter character gets abducted and it gets barely a reaction after the fact, they just move onto the next scene in the same headspace.
Now I’m not saying anyone here necessarily puts in a bad performance, but Sam Rockwell especially is simply performing to a level that’s worthy of the script he’s reading from. His down on his luck suburban Dad schtick is a little standard, and his odd touches of humor, particularly during the scenes where the movie goes more into horror territory, completely undercuts the little tension that Kenan is able to create. As for the others, the child actors do a serviceable job in their roles, while Rosemarie Dewitt is wasted as a standard mum stereotype. Jared Harris actually fairs okay as the quirky psychic character, but ultimately can’t hold a candle to Zelda Rubinsteins oddball performance from the original.
Visually, the movie is a mixed bag. On the one hand, I appreciated how much they really didn’t try to hide the fact that the VFX were inspired by the eighties, with the translucent bright colors really reminding you of the original film. At the same time, however, they can be a little hokey, and again bring the film more into the family horror-lite tale that Kenan became trapped in.
The finale trip inside the other dimension is one of the movies better visual ideas, yet the over-reliance on murky CGI and POV directing brings the scene down. The potential is there for it to be a great scene, but like the movie itself, it just can’t seem to elevate itself with a fresh twist. Ultimately, this poltergeist movie felt watered down, when it should have really embraced the 80’s craziness and kookiness of the original film.
Ironically enough, the actual twist here would have been keeping the over the top tone of the original, instead of following most remakes in trying to make the concept more serious.
It can sometimes feel a little redundant to describe a remake as uninspired, but that description fits this movie completely. The Russo brothers are actually taking another trip to the other dimension next year, giving us out second Poltergeist remake. Let’s hope they have better luck.