Poltergeist is one of those classic movies that helped to shape and define the horror genre. In the 70’s and 80’s, horror movies were at their peak and what is happening now is that the same ideas are being regurgitated over and over again whether it be a ‘reimagining’ a ‘remake’ or even prequels and sequels, the originality of the genre is dying a death and if it wasn’t for films like The Witch or It Follows we would be tumbling into an abyss of superhero movies and never-ending franchises. The original Poltergeist belonged in the 80’s, everything about it screamed the 80’s and as technology was emerging, the notion of EVP or children being sucked into television sets were closer to being believable and the film could even been seen as an allegory for the way in which humanity is on the cusp of being all-consumed by technology.
Poltergeist is the story of the Bowen family who moves to a new house in a small town in Illinois. Their daughter, Maddy, appears to develop a friendship with something that none of them can see and one night while staring at white noise on the TV set, she announces that her friends have arrived. She is then sucked into the wardrobe in her bedroom and appears trapped in the white noise of the TV. She can shout out and her family can hear her but she is trapped in this strange world. The house is then tormented by a poltergeist spirit. The family call in professionals to help exorcise the demon.
Remaking classic films like this is never, ever a good idea. Even if you put Sam Rockwell in it and get Sam Raimi behind it, it’s just doomed from the outset. The remake of Poltergeist really is no different and going into it with low expectations is probably quite a good idea. There is nothing to outright hate about the film but there is nothing to love about it either. It’s enjoyable to an extent but it quickly veers away from mildly interesting to intensely boring. The thing that keeps you watching is seeing how they are going to recreate the classic moments from the original for example, the famous face peeling scene, and the moment the ghost-like hand reaches out from the TV or when the tree attacks the young boy. They managed to play homage to the original nicely, the parents were young, fun and carefree and the children were excitable and adorable. The family dynamic was almost there were it not for the unconvincing mother or the stereotype teenager. It was strange because the story was identical, as was the narrative, but all the little bits they changed just made the whole thing feel a bit confused. Everyone’s names were different, characters changed gender, it was set in modern day and the house wasn’t built on an ancient Indian burial ground. It’s either a remake or its not and this felt like it just wasn’t sure.
Sam Rockwell, obviously, was the only redeeming feature of the film and even then you could tell he knew that he was doing it just for a paycheck. There is no spark in him at all and at times it just feels like he is going through the motions of working with a weak cast on a film that isn’t going to be successful. He is so much better than this and even the moments of supposed peril were laughable at best. The film could have easily been a PG in my opinion, there really was nothing scary about it and all the times that something scary is apparently happening are so badly acted and so poorly executed that you just feel a bit cheated. The problem is simply that you have seen it all before, but so much better. If you are afraid of clowns, however, take a clean pair of underpants.
Poltergeist is a half-hearted attempt at creating a film that pays homage to a classic but also survives on its own original ideas. When the storyline is identical save for a few minor differences, it is going to be extremely difficult to keep an audience engaged. This film may well belong to a younger generation and perhaps their reactions, having not seen or been around for the original film, may be more favorable. However, for those who know and love the original, you will probably just turn this one off and stick the original on because it really is so much better. There is a way in which these classics can be remade or reimagined, you only have to look at the recent Blair Witch to get an idea about how it should be done. The film follows the same story, it plays homage to the original but it is entirely its own thing with a different story, different characters but the same setting.
Sam Rockwell, this film belongs to you but if I was you I would run a country mile away from it.
Not a total waste of time but not one for horror lovers. Perfect for a lazy night in with a bucket of popcorn and buddy by your side. The clowns are terrifying, the scares are jumpy but the film will fail to instil any kind of fear in you. If you fancy something easy to watch with some cheap scares, then take a look at Poltergeist premiering on HBO October 29th at 8pm.