There are several scary things in the film industry: money spent and earned, political agendas, drug abuse, cosmetic surgery… and Poltergeist. The scariest of all is the dreaded ‘remake’. Remakes are notorious for dividing hardcore fans from casual fans, sparking heated internet debates, and scattering critics left and right. It’s mass chaos when someone attempts to remake a successful (or worse, a successful and great) film from our not-so-distant movie past. Poltergeist (2015), however, finds a little common ground for everyone to enjoy.
Legendary filmmaker Sam Raimi (“Spiderman”, “Evil Dead”, “The Grudge”) and director Gil Kenan (“Monster House”) contemporize the classic tale about a family whose suburban home is haunted by evil forces. When the terrifying apparitions escalate their attacks and hold the youngest daughter captive, the family must come together to rescue her before she disappears forever. ~ 20th Century Fox
Here’s the outright truth of Poltergeist version two (or P’15, as I’ll call it from here): It’s not bad. I went into the theater like all the other hardcore fans with my gloves on and ready to rumble, glowering at the casual fans for looking excited about seeing what I could only assume would be a giant turd. There are many similarities between the films (obviously), and every time I saw something slightly (or hugely) different from the original content my fists came up – but then was immediately surprised that the changes worked and passed quickly, and down came the dukes.
A key component of P’15 was the pace. The film races before your eyes – sometimes to its benefit and sometimes to its detriment. Those who’ve never seen the original may not notice it, but the rest of us will. It’s like a 90 minute roller coaster ride, continually speeding from 0 to 100 mph with hardly any build up. P’15 is the fast ‘n dirty version (the CliffsNotes, really) of Poltergeist ’82. While the personality and key components are there, we miss out on the finer details and the soul of the original. On the plus side, there is little time to mentally debate the differences between the films’ content, allowing you to get over these changes quickly and continue enjoying yourself. I think having Steven Spielberg co-write the remake (of the original that he also co-wrote) made a huge difference between P’15 and many other recent remakes. You can feel Spielberg’s incredible gift for storytelling in every scene, though the pace makes it hard for the characters to develop, relationships to be formed, and a deep feeling of dread to be established. The humor of the original shines through, however; the audience is given much deserved breaks from the nonstop thrill ride.
While the children’s characters were fairly generic, the young actors did a fine job. It was easy to believe the struggles in their normal life as well as their terror inside the house. Sam Rockwell and Rosemarie DeWitt were good choices for the leads, able to keep themselves invested in the emotionality of their characters under the pressing pace. It was a pleasant surprise to see Jared Harris and Jane Adams (II) as part of the investigation team; they brought their supportive roles to life as usual.
Beside the pacing issues, the other down side is the CG. Don’t get me wrong, the graphics are decent and create moments that are amazingly chilling. However, like most scary or thrilling movies these days, they just can’t help but go overboard. The use of tangible props in the original is what gave gravity to the thrills and horror, despite the controversy surrounding said props (not to mention the Poltergeist Curse). The scene in Poltergeist ’82 where the mother pushes the chairs in to the table, gets into a kitchen cabinet, then looks back to see the dining room chairs balanced on the table is fantastic. What makes that scene genius is that there was no loud, jarring music to emphasize the moment or throwing in a jump-out scare for good measure. The director just lingered on the shot until the sickening realization of what happened washed over the audience, providing a quietly chilling “Oh, shit!” moment in the film. P’15 opts for the more contemporary tactics of scary movies during their BIG SCARE moments. The best spooky scenes in P’15 are the ones that start out with no CG, sending serious goosebumps down your arms. There are plenty of other moments that end with a big CG bang – and that, for me, just kills the effect. The CG is pretty but obvious and easy to spot, shaking you from the suspension of disbelief. The 3D moments are forced and unnecessary, leading me to recommend saving your dollars and watching this one in 2D.
Poltergeist (2015) is one of the better remakes I’ve seen in the last ten years and, while it isn’t reinventing the contemporary thriller wheel, it draws on some of the old school spooky tactics. This creates an acceptable blend of styles that will appease fans of both schools of the genre and provides a fast-paced and exciting – though shallow – flick to kick off the summer blockbuster season.