Review: ’Poltergiest’ Conjures Up Old Scares and Nothing New

Evan Slead ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Movies Editor

Kennedi Clemens in Poltergeist. Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox.
Kennedi Clemens in Poltergeist. Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox.
Remaking horror classics in the past decade has been a business all its own. The subversive form was to take an aged piece of horrific celluloid and freshen it up with a hip cast and darker approach to the mythos. Of course, not all of the remake attempts have been home runs. Typically the idea of “reimagining” an original concept turns out to just be a gender swap of characters or tweaks to the same outcomes as before. While these decisions do not ruin the film, they ultimately leave a giant stamp across the screen stating: unnecessary. The horror classic Poltergeist from 1982 brought chills and thrills to audiences young and old due to its ability to capture the essence of raising a family during the Reagan era. The family endures horrific events but all the while maintain the Spielbergian excitement that their lives aren’t completely boring. Jump to 2015 and a new take on the classic emerges with Poltergeist: the redo. Director Gil Kenan has taken the skeleton of the 1982 original and has attempted to scare audiences again, however the finished product feels uncomfortably similar to its predecessor. Survey says- “Haven’t we seen this before”?
Griffin Bowen (Kyle Catlett) is scared of most things. Whether it’s his older sister Kendra (Saxon Sharbino) dropping comments about murderers lurking around or the over abundance of clown dolls in his new room, he can’t seem to shake the feeling that something is about to snap. His parents, Eric (Sam Rockwell) and Amy (Rosemarie DeWitt), have fears of their own in finding a stable job and paying off their ever growing debt. Starting fresh in a new neighborhood seems to be the answer they need and the youngest Bowen, Madison (Kennedi Clements), has no objection to their new abode. Her imaginary friends have taken more of a manifestation in the form of poltergeists. As occurrences with flickering lights and faulty electronics begin to plague the family, the presence of said poltergeists becomes more apparent. Eventually Eric and Amy learn that their home has been built on an ancient burial ground which has left their children free to be manipulated by the spirits of the dead. One night Madison is taken by the ghouls and can only communicate with her family through television sets and lightbulbs. With the help of paranormal investigators, the family seeks a way to bring Madison back from the other side before she walks too far into the light.
The overall plot of this 2015 update is nearly identical to the original film. There have been small changes made, such as using more modern technology and incorporating more CGI trickery to lengthen some scenes. The largest changes essentially take the positive aspects of the original and place them into a different role. In the original, JoBeth Williams was the standout performer as the truly dedicated mother fighting to get her daughter back from death. Craig T. Nelson delivered a solid performance as well, but lacked the spark that JoBeth flashed in every scene. The remake swaps that out as Sam Rockwell eats up the scenery with his charm and creative timing. Rosemarie DeWitt, much like Nelson, is merely backup to the main event.
The other change: giving the brother the role of savior. Griffin is set up as a terrified child, understandably so, and by the end he overcomes his fears to make the ultimate rescue mission for his sister. Thankfully the script gives enough time to Griffin for this change to make proper sense and overall gave the movie a fresh feel compared to the original.
Kyle Catlett in Poltergeist. Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox.
Kyle Catlett in Poltergeist. Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox.
What bangs the last nail in the coffin for this film is that it didn’t reach for more. The fear was downplayed for humor, which doesn’t ruin the film, but gives it a questionable legitimacy as a horror retelling. There were no inherent wrong doings or sins committed by Kenan’s vision, it was just too tame and safe to be anything worth remembering. Audiences now have two choices of how to watch a family escape a poltergeist, and most likely, the original still wins the battle.
Overall Grade: B-
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