Review: 'Poltergeist (2015)'

 By: Heather Seebach

When it comes to horror remakes, I am far more forgiving than most of my peers. Remakes are not the anti-Christ. They do not tarnish the originals. They do not rape your childhood. Still, they have their bad reputation for a good reason. For every one solid remake, there are two dozen awful ones. At least the crap ones that try something new (*cough* Rob Zombie's Halloween *cough*) are not as offensive as the ones that make zero effort. The Poltergeist remake is an example of the latter. 

The 2015 update of Tobe Hooper's classic sees the Bowen family moving into a new home under the pressure of financial woes. Maddie, their youngest, begins talking to the "lost people" in the house while middle child Griffin is scared of his own shadow and the eldest daughter is your stereotypical spoiled-brat teenager. When Maddie is abducted by the poltergeists, the family enlists the help of a paranormal studies professor (Jane Adams) and a television ghost hunter (Jared Harris).

Perhaps the most frustrating thing about this remake is that it brings nothing new to the table and yet thinks it is being clever. All the key scenes from the original movie are re-hashed (often in some way to "modernize" them) and made far less scary. A swimming pool filled with mud and corpses becomes...a sticky basement?! The infamous face-melting scene is reduced to what may or may not be bleeding eyes on a faucet tap?! There is even a smarmy dig at the original's "tribal burial ground" plotline that is as unfunny as it is awkwardly shoehorned into the dialogue. 

The second most frustrating thing about this remake is how the most interesting female character - Dr. Powell played by Jane Adams - melts into a ball of mush around Jared Harris' reality TV star character. There is more to it than that (which I'll save for spoilers' sake) and, look, I like a handsome Irishman as much as the next lass, but her character turns into a cliché the moment he shows up. Still, Adams and Harris are the best thing about this movie. They put in more effort than it deserves. As the Bowen patriarch, Sam Rockwell is his usual likable self but even his ever-present charm is not enough to save this one.

There is nothing original in Poltergeist, only attempts to spin the old material on its head and the result is soulless and completely lacking in scares. So too are those fantastic practical FX gone, replaced by computer-generated garbage. Even the clown is less scary! Don't these filmmakers understand the art of subtlety? Clowns like the doll in the original are scary because they look normal, harmless, happy. Too happy. Look how brightly it was lit, and how colorful! That thing put the fear of God into me as a kid! Now look at the new doll - dingy, bleak, darkly-lit, and ominous as hell. Making something look scary is not the same as being scary. That is exactly why so many people are scared of clowns - they represent the exact opposite of pain and fear. So many bland modern horror remakes are guilty of this sin, trying to replace scares with grime and low lighting. Can we please stop now?

As any remake curmudgeon will tell you, Poltergeist was not a film that needed to be remade. In reality, no film NEEDS to be remade. Still, there is always the potential to make something new and interesting using an old premise. Unfortunately, you will not find that here. Even when you remove the remake element - let's say you can completely forget the original for a moment - this one still has nothing to offer that has not been done better in recent films like Insidious. In fact, Insidious is often accused to copying Poltergeist so it's probably already a better remake of Poltergeist than this.

Poltergeist is available on Digital HD now, and hits DVD/Blu-ray on September 29th from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment. 
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