Directed by: Gil Kenan.
Written by: David Lindsay-Abaire and Steven Spielberg (story).
Strring: Sam Rockwell (Eric Bowen), Rosemarie DeWitt (Amy Bowen), Saxon Sharbino (Kendra Bowen), Kyle Catlett (Griffin Bowen), Kennedi Clements (Madison Bowen), Jared Harris (Carrigan Burke), Jane Adams (Dr. Brooke Powell), Susan Heyward (Sophie), Nicholas Braun (Boyd).
The best moments in Poltergeist are among the quietest – a number of slow, tracking shots that move through the house that we know is haunted. These moments slowly build tension, and becomes the most effective, unsettling moments in the film. Late in the film, we get one of these that is more explicit than anything that came before in the movie – finally showing us what lies beyond – and because director Gil Kenan has already used this shot, it’s even more effective. Unfortunately, the rest of Poltergeist isn’t anywhere near as good as these few, isolated moments of unsettling tension.
The 1982 original film – directed by Tobe Hooper, co-written and produced (and perhaps shadow directed) by Steven Spielberg, the film is effective and scary – in part because of expertly used scare moments, and in part because the family at the heart felt real – and felt like they were harboring darker secrets, and trying make it through. To give the remake credit, it does indeed try to ground the remake in a plausible, modern reality – the reason the family has moved into this new house is because the husband/father/sole bread winner Eric Bowen (Sam Rockwell) has lost his job, so the family is downsizing. Hence, they get a house in a neighborhood “hit hard by foreclosure” – which a way to get this cash strapped family in a spooky, older house as well as explaining why there never seems to be any curious neighbors. Other than the economic troubles though, this family feels solid – no hint of the troubles as the previous film had, which is disappointing.
Other than that though, the movie does follow a very similar path as the original. Family in a new house, experience strange goings on, the parents doubt the kids, until they cannot doubt any more when the youngest, Madison (Kennedi Clements) goes missing – essentially sucked into her closet, and while they can occasionally hear her, they cannot get her back. Unlike any normal family they do not call the police – but rather a doctor of the paranormal (Jane Adams), who will eventually call in a TV ghost hunter (Jared Harris), who has actual powers. Perhaps the biggest single change in the movie is that the middle child – the only boy in the family, Griffin (Kyle Catlett), becomes perhaps the central character in the film – when he was almost a throwaway character in the original. That, and the fact that the other, Amy (Rosemarie DeWitt) isn’t anywhere near as interesting as JoBeth Williams was in the original.
Then again, almost nothing is as interesting in the remake as it is in the original film. If you’ve seen the original, than you know what is going to happen in bigger moments. There are a few nice, smaller moments – and for the most part, the performances are good – I particularly look Rockwell and Adams. Director Kenan’s previous film was the underrated animated film Monster House – so he clearly has an affinity with this type of story. He’s at his best when he doesn’t have to go through the motions with plot or character – and can simply luxuriate in the house itself, and its nooks and crannies. He may well make a great horror movie one day. Unfortunately, despite a number of nice touches, Poltergeist isn’t it. It isn’t a horrible movie – and it will likely do for horror fans wanting to scratch that horror movie itch. But it isn’t wholly satisfying – it’s a by the numbers remake – and I see no reason why you should see this film rather than the original. Now that was a horror movie.