Despite being what I’d call a hardcore horror “purist,” I have no problem with remakes in general. Any sort of movie, be it remake, adaptation, sequel, prequel, or (gasp) an original story deserves to judged on its own merits, which means that no matter how much I love the 1982 Tobe Hooper/Steven Spielberg horror flick Poltergeist, I’d always be open to giving a new rendition a fair shake. It’s been a long time since the one-two awfulness punch that are Poltergeist 2: The Other Side (1986) and Poltergeist 3 (1988), plus I’ve been known to have a good time with unexpected (and unasked for) remakes like Evil Dead, The Crazies and Fright Night, so maybe this “new” version of Poltergeist would turn out to be a good time.
Alas, no. Despite an impressive pedigree that includes director Gil Kenan (Monster House), screenwriter David Lindsay-Abaire (Rabbit Hole), producer Sam Raimi (The Evil Dead), and a fantastic ensemble that includes Sam Rockwell, Rosemary DeWitt, Jared Harris, and Jane Adams, there’s very little on display that warrants anything besides a disinterested shrug. You can probably blame “remake fever” for this one, because if you wanted to produce a haunted house movie that is set in suburbia, you could do that and call it any old thing. But this movie wasn’t produced because anyone had a cool idea. It was made because “Poltergeist” is still a very popular movie title, so it only makes sense to exploit that title with, yep, a wholly pointless remake.
The original Poltergeist was basically a very old story in a very new setting: a haunted house in the suburbs. See? That’s how you do it: something old plus something new sometimes equals a great movie that people still talk about 25 years later. And then someone remakes it without even a fraction of the original movie’s wit, energy, or creativity. The new version of Poltergeist feels like it was patched together via vague memories of the original film’s better moments by people who don’t really like scary movies, and are certainly not interested in creating one.
So yes: a family of five moves into a new home, only to discover that there are evil spirits afoot, only the family doesn’t seem to care all that much until their youngest daughter is sucked into the TV and whisked away to a creepy netherworld. It’s all here. Again. Remember that creepy tree attack? That’s also recreated here, and rather lamely if you ask me. The freaky clown doll sequence? Also copied here, only not scary. Evil kid-sucking closet demon? Also check.
Given that the original Poltergeist runs 114 minutes and this new version clocks in under 90, you can logically assume that all that stupid character development and suburban locale humor has been tossed right out the window. This time around, the parents have precisely one character trait apiece. The dad is presently unemployed, and the mom is a failed novelist. The kids are (from youngest to oldest) A) adorable, B) anxious, and C) bitchy. Also, what used to take place in a vibrant suburban neighborhood now takes place in a depressingly low-rent development. (Not sure why, exactly.) So there’s your character development. Now let’s get to the digital ghosts and the pedantic recreations of sequences we’ve already seen over and over already, right?
Frankly it’s hard to tell who this movie was made for. Anyone who loves the original will be irritated by the lackluster writing and frequently slavish devotion to well-established sequences. And those who haven’t seen the original will walk away confused as to why the 1982 film is held in such high regard in the first place. Plus it’s not scary. Ever. Not even once. Mildly suspenseful, maybe, but completely lacking the mood, style, or intensity that every horror movie needs. Yes, even one that’s geared for the 13-year-old audience, as this one plainly is.
As far as what’s “new” in this version, get this: remember the big heroic moment for the mom? How she ventured into a ghost-filled netherworld in order to rescue her helpless daughter? That oddly touching moment of selfless, maternal heroism? Yeah, in the remake, a drone with a camera gets to explore the other dimension while mom just stands around holding a rope. That pretty much sums up the whole movie: get the humans out of the way so we can let technology handle everything.
Destined to be categorized (and hopefully forgotten) among both of the lackluster sequels, Poltergeist (2015) is a shining example of a remake that’s as uninspired as it was unnecessary. How you turn one of the most vibrant “mainstream” horror films of the modern age into such a dreary, aimless, and inert piece of cinematic product is simply beyond my comprehension. All I know is it made me want to watch the original film again, so I guess we can call that a silver lining, of sorts.