Review – Poltergeist

Poster for 2015 horror remake Poltergeist

Genre: Horror
Certificate: 15
UK Release Date: 22nd May 2015
Runtime: 94 minutes
Director: Gil Kenan
Writer: David Lindsay-Abaire
Starring: Sam Rockwell, Rosemarie DeWitt, Kyle Catlett, Kennedi Clements, Jared Harris, Saxon Sharbino
Synopsis: A suburban family must seek specialist help when their daughter appears to be kidnapped by a demonic presence in their home.



The track record for horror remakes is far from a good one. Many of the best horror properties of the past have been mercilessly rehashed over the last few years, with most simply amplifying the noise of the previous film and adding in a couple more jump scares. The latest film to get the modern remake treatment is Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist, which has been taken by Gil Kenan and been butchered beyond belief.

Eric (Sam Rockwell) and Amy (Rosemarie DeWitt) are cash-strapped as a result of Eric being made redundant from work, but manage to buy themselves a home. Odd things happen at the house to the couple’s youngest daughter Madison (Kennedi Clements) and son Griffin (Kyle Catlett). When Madison goes missing in mysterious circumstances, the family call in TV ghost hunter Carrigan Burke (Jared Harris) to help them.

The reason that the original Poltergeist worked was that it balanced old school scare tactics with robust social commentary. On release, it was a timely warning about the dangers of television and the relentless expansion of homogenised suburbia. The supernatural threats faced by the family were driven by that dual commentary.

| "Your daughter is their ticket out of this purgatory."

In the remake, the threats are the same, but the context is gone, which renders the story nonsensical. The television is seldom switched on in the house, other than when it is doing its creepy static. Neither is the protagonist a soldier of real estate, as he was in the original. He has been substituted for a recently unemployed man, in a role completely and utterly phoned in by Sam Rockwell, who has never looked quite so bored. None of the context works, which makes the film’s other flaws all the more unforgivable.

Poltergeist believes, steadfastly, in the “show don’t tell” ethos for cinema. As a result, everything is turned up to eleven visually, whilst subtlety is dialled right down. Even the film’s climax, so creepy and tense in the original film, is turned into a blandly conventional ghost train ride in Kenan’s sequel. By the time Jared Harris appears as a zeitgeisty twist on the original film’s paranormal expert, it draws a shake of resignation as the last hope of quality ebbs away.

The film also suffers from being positioned awkwardly in terms of age classification. It feels as if the producers wanted a 12A certificate and so kept the scares suitable for that audience. However, it seems they eventually either gave up on that aim or were told it was unattainable. As a result, neutered, safe scares butt heads with raw language and adult content. Poltergeist doesn’t know who it’s trying to sell tickets to and, as a result, doesn’t appeal to anyone.

| "They’re here…"

More than most remakes, Poltergeist seems to have wilfully missed the point of the original. The first film had a reason to tell its story, but that reason is conspicuously absent from the remake, which uses special effects and overlong, punch-free jump scare sequences to try and paper over the narrative cracks. It’s a creatively bankrupt cash-in that taints the memory of an all-time genre classic.


Pop or Poop?

Rating: Poop!

Horror remakes are now part of cinema’s furniture, but Poltergeist is one of the worst. Gil Kenan’s film isn’t just a poor copy of the original; it deliberately warps the social commentary that drove Tobe Hooper’s film.

The performances are phoned in, the script is shoddy and the scares have been castrated to widen the appeal. This is horror by spreadsheet and the only scary thing about it is the box office success.


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