“They know what scares you.”
Director: Gil Kenan
Cast: Sam Rockwell, Rosemarie DeWitt, Kennedi Clements
Synopsis: A family whose suburban home is haunted by evil forces must come together to rescue their youngest daughter after the apparitions take her captive.
While the reasons for remaking Steven Spielberg and Tobe Hooper’s 1982 horror movie Poltergeist are obvious, it’s not so easy to imagine the level of ineptitude required to strip a bona-fide classic of everything that made it special and transform it into a lifeless bore devoid of atmosphere, imagination or original thought. The fact that, at 93 minutes, the 2015 version is 21 minutes shorter than the original is enough to start alarm bells ringing. Does anyone remember superfluous content in Hooper’s version? Some flabbiness that needed trimming? No, didn’t think so…
The Freelings from Hooper’s version have now mutated into the Bowens, and instead of a successful real estate agent, dad Bowen, Eric, (Sam Rockwell – The Green Mile) is a recently laid-off former employee of John Deere. Losing his job means the family have to move to a smaller house, and their new home is on the market at a stupidly low price which neither Eric or his wife, Amy (Rosemarie DeWitt) think to question before snapping it up. If they had, they might have learned that the reason the price is so low is that the house was built on the site of a former cemetery. Even that might not have deterred a family on the downward path to lower-middle class – apparently it’s not unheard of for builders to create room for the boxes of the living by relocating the boxes of the dead – but no doubt the Bowens might have had reason to reconsider their purchase had they known that only the headstones had been removed and the dead were still interred under their new home.
It’s not long before the weirdness kicks off. Teenage daughter Kendra (Saxon Sharbino) finds that her mobile phone is prone to static interference, little Madison (Kennedi Clements) starts talking to her cupboard, and when he’s not paralysed with fear by the tree that overhangs the skylight of his attic bedroom, nervous middle kid Griffin (Kyle Catlett) is pretty certain he can hear the creepy toy clowns he found in a box in the cupboard scuttling about in the darkness. Weirdest of all, mum and dad keep getting electric shocks from a wooden bannister. Things come to a head when mum and dad leave Kendra in charge of her siblings while they attend a dinner party which might result in a job for Eric. Kendra is nearly dragged into a muddy hole in the basement, Griffin is dragged from the house by a bough of that overhanging tree, and little Madison is drawn into a nether-realm inhabited by the recently disenfranchised – and decidedly disgruntled – dead. They really should have got a sitter…
There’s a laziness about Gil Kenan’s Poltergeist that presumably comes from having the details of the plot mapped out for you in advance. No doubt it must be a challenge for writers and directors of a remake to find ways to deviate from the original while remaining faithful to its spirit, but you get the impression that those involved in making Poltergeist simply didn’t care about providing a new slant on an old favourite, and opted for the easy route of bland imitation. We cared about the Freelings, they were a nice family with a cool sense of humour, but the Bowens are deadly, deadly dull. Who cares if they’re gobbled up by the unhappy dead? It would simply leave one empty space where there used to be five.
Sam Rockwell does his best as the family patriarch, and even gets to flex his acting muscles for one – one – scene, in which, he has a mini breakdown after cynically questioning the methods of the TV ghost hunter (Jared Harris – Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, The Man from U.N.C.L.E.) brought in to find Madison. But you have to wonder why an actor of his quality has to appear in rubbish like this in order to make ends meet – I know I wouldn’t want the 2015 version of Poltergeist on my CV.
(Reviewed 7th January 2016)