Poltergeist Phones It In
By Danny S. Warren
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: A family of Suburban WASPs move into a new home and right as they begin to settle in, their smallest child gains a creepy imaginary friend, and inanimate objects begin to move around on their own. Sound familiar? Of course it does, because every haunted house movie in the last 30 years was built upon that ancient Indian burial ground. Although the original 1982 film Poltergeist may have not been the first to introduce this formula, it was definitely the best at pulling it off and has been a pop culture staple of horror ever since.
Director Gil Kenan’s (Monster House, City of Ember) attempts to remake the 33 year old classic, but the necessity has yet to be determined.
After falling on hard times, the Bowen family lose their home and are forced to move to a new town. The patriarch of the family, Eric (Sam Rockwell) has been laid off by the John Deere Corporation, and wife Amy (Rosemarie DeWitt) is a stay at home mom with aspirations of becoming a writer. Together they have three children: the bitchy teenager Kendra, the boy who is about to become a man Griffin, and the adorable six year old Maddie. As you can expect Kendra isn’t happy about moving, Griffin is scared of the new house with all its creaks and shadows, and Maddie has decided to start talking to invisible people. Unfortunately, the clichés don’t end there. Soon, Griffin starts noticing that something isn’t right in the home when a bunch of toy clowns literally fall from the ceiling, and things start moving on their own. Naturally no one believes him except Maddie, who knows what’s going on thanks to her invisible friends. When Eric and Amy are invited to a dinner party, they leave Griffin and Maddie in the care of Kendra in hopes that some new connections will lead to a job. At the dinner party, the Bowens are informed that their house was built on land that used to be a graveyard, and all the bodies were moved. Though a little creeped out, the Bowens accept this information fairly easily and continue on with dinner. Meanwhile their three children are being terrorized when the spirits of the dead decide to come out and play. At this point, Director Kenan or writer David Lindsay-Abaire could have given us a very terrifying turn of events that would have separated this remake from the 1982 film. Instead, they chose to mimic the original with only a few thematic differences. It’s all there: the clown, the tree, the closet, with the only key difference being when Griffin escapes the clown and runs to Maddie’s room to help her. He opens the door, she begs him to help her, and he chooses to leave in order to seek help which ultimately leads to Maddie getting pulled into the “in between” through her closet. When the parents return, the haunting ends, and no one can find Maddie.
At this point, the film sheds any kind of legitimacy it has left. Amy and Eric decide that instead of calling emergency services to help locate their missing daughter, they should instead just mosey on down to the local university and hire the resident Ghostbuster (I am thoroughly disappointed in my college experience). After a night of ghost reconnaissance and a few scary scenes (which are magically erased with the old “it was all an illusion” trope) the Professor of Ghostbustology determines that they need the professional services of a reality show ghost hunter. Turns out it was a good call, since unlike any other T.V. ghost chaser, this guy is the real deal and an expert at dealing with the poltergeist haunting the Bowen’s home. By using a convenient portal that allows one to exit the “in between” after entering through the closet, they devise a plan to get Maddie out. It is at this point the film-maker attempts to be original and artistic, but by the time you realize it, he has retreated back to the safety net of the original film.
All in all, Poltergeist is a clichéd film that has nothing original to offer. It often pokes fun at the 1982 film but relies way too heavily on everything else from it. What few changes they have made matters very little, and the characters lack depth and, at times, even emotion. Sam Rockwell gives a decent performance at times, but his character is so cookie-cutter that they could have easily replaced him with a puppet, and no one would have noticed. I typically don’t like to pick on the performances of children, however, the actor playing Griffin is so all over the place with his range that it becomes very distracting, and the movie itself suffers as they rely on his character to move the plot forward. If you’ve seen the original, you will find nothing of interest here. If you haven’t seen the original, you will have a better experience finding a copy than watching this obvious cash-grab on the franchise. 2 out of 5 Skulls.