Whilst rarely deviating from the original, every solitary change that Poltergeist does bother to make is for the worse.
There’s nothing quite like a remake of a horror classic to get a fanboy’s rage juices flowing. That being said, it is true that very infrequently, something can come along and surprise us. Unfortunately though, we’ve had too many Texas Chainsaw Massacres (2003), Halloweens (2007) and Friday 13ths (2009), to let the occasional Evil Dead (2013) get our hopes up. So with all that out of the way, is Poltergeist (2015) going to be one of those rare exceptions? No. No it is not.
Despite some initial promise, this is as needless as they come, rehashing the basic plot and all of the iconic scenes but robbing them of their previous quality. So once again, we’re introduced to a nuclear family, the Bowens, as they move into a new residence. Struggling financially the parents, Eric (Sam Rockewell) and Amy (Rosemarie DeWitt), think that they’ve come across a bargain with their new home, which on the surface seems perfect. However, almost instantaneously things are amiss. Objects move on their own accord, electronic devices routinely malfunction and their youngest daughter Madison is found talking to herself. As the days go on, it becomes more and more evident that there is a supernatural force at work. When Madison is eventually abducted by the mysterious, ghostly entity, the family try everything in their power to get her back, contacting a trio of paranormal investigators and a TV spiritualist (Jarred Harris) for aid.
Reviewing a remake can all too easily turn into simply praising the original and damming the new one by juxtaposition, yet at the same time, Poltergeist so eagerly draws comparison to its forebear that it’s very hard not to be reminded of the 1982 original. Directed by Tobe Hooper and produced/co-written by Steven Spielberg, the horror classic is something of an anomaly. Rated 15 here, but a PG in the states, the film is the closest you’ll ever come to a family-friendly horror film. Ignoring what the credits say, it’s often reputed to have essentially been helmed by Spielberg, who only passed on the film to direct that year’s E.T. instead. This theory is substantiated by just how at home the film feels with the rest of the director’s work. Set in classic Spielbergia, with a childlike innocence and sense of wonder, the film is more like an adventure story than a proper chiller. It’s also a landmark in practical effects, some of which (although not all), still hold up today. In short, it’s funny, it’s sweet, it’s endearing, it’s filled with iconic lines and moments, and it’s legitimately creepy. So, it’s fair to say that the remake has a high standard to meet.
Now no one expected Gil Kenan’s retread to be as good as, or even surpass Hooper’s film. However it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect it to show some understanding of what made the first Poltergeist so great. And yet, other than some early scenes which suggest that the film has got the family dynamic down quite well, that’s exactly what this doesn’t have. Sense of wonder? Decent scares? The slightest hint of originality? Nope, nope and nope. At times it even feels like the filmmakers have intentionally gone for a lesser impact, with memorable scenes from the original delivered in the most shrug-worthy way imaginable. And let’s not even get into the piss-poor CGI.
All in all, if the film has nothing new to contribute and only serves to take away from the original, then why does it exist? We already have a legion of Insidious and Conjuring sequels, all of which cherry-picked the best bits from the original anyway. So even if you haven’t seen the first one, this will still be remarkably familiar to you. Of course saying that a film is ‘needless’ doesn’t necessarily equate to it being bad. ‘Dull’, ‘unimaginative’, ‘lifeless’ and ‘bland’: now those are the words that make a proper stinker.
Poltergeist (2015), directed by Gil Kenan, is distributed in UK cinemas by Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, certificate 15.