Gil Kenan’s “Poltergeist” is the lackluster remake of the 1982 classic that no one asked for.
Kenan, director of 2006’s “Monster House” and 2008’s “City of Ember,” takes the original film and finds a way to shoot it scene for scene while leaving out the intended story. With the exception of a few moments, “Poltergeist” fails to build any real tension or connection to the characters, and sadly, that is what makes a horror movie worth watching.
The movie opens with a close up of an iPad rather than a TV, as if to show that time has passed since the first film. The Bowen family is moving into a new house today, and as is usual, the children aren’t exactly happy with the decision. As they arrive, a sales woman greets the family. She explains that this house has been fitted with the latest technology, which doesn’t really receive mention beyond that point.
Through some dry expositional scenes, it is revealed that they are moving to this neighborhood because the husband Eric Bowen (Sam Rockwell) has been laid off. Over the next few days they start to make strange discoveries around the house: a bedroom closet that won’t open, a hidden room full of clowns and a mischievous squirrel that gives them quite a scare. They also find what is clearly a human vertebra in their garden and assume it must be from an animal, so they rebury it. However, it is only their youngest daughter Madison (Kennedi Clements) who begins to interact with the ghosts in a friendly way. The ghosts roll things across the floor to her and speak to her through the static on the television.
One night the Bowen parents go out to a dinner party and leave Kendra (Saxon Sharbino) home with the two youngest Griffin (Kyle Catlett) and Madison. Over the parents poorly written dinner conversation, it is revealed that the Bowen’s house is located on top of an old burial ground, and the bodies and the hedge stones have been moved to a “nicer neighborhood.” Meanwhile, the house starts attacking the children one by one and eventually ends up taking one of them to “the other side.” The family must now band together with the help of some experts to discover what has happened to their daughter and how to get her back.
The movie made sure to hit you over the head with its dialogue, leaving nothing up to the imagination. All the facets of the paranormal activity were laid out bluntly, ensuring there would be no confusion. This was presumably due to the movie’s brief 93-minute run time. This short length and lack of character development made the movie feel overly condensed, which results in it sorely missing its mark.
This latest “Poltergeist” film included many of the same scenes as its predecessor but forgot that a story is also supposed to include a lesson along the way. The message of the original was a commentary on our growing dependence on electronics. While the writers set up many events: a broken phone, a high tech house and a brand new alarm system, they never seemed to be able to capitalize on any of them. This left you with a feeling that you had maybe missed something, when sadly you did not.
The fact that this movie was so atrocious even though it was almost a carbon copy of the original with the only difference being the writing proves one thing. Spielberg’s original script is what made the first movie so memorable.
The sole shining light at the end of this haunted house hallway was the way it was shot. The constant sweeping camera angles gave a sense that you were there in the moment. The camera shots were long, and they slid back and forth over the shoulders of the cast. At times even cocking as the actors’ heads did. This was probably the only thing that added any element of suspense to this entire movie.
This film relies heavily on whoever is playing the family’s daughter to deliver a performance that makes the audience feel as though she can really communicate with the poltergeists. Clements’ Madison did an outstanding job. Her lines were clearly delivered, and her talks with the “people inside the television” felt like she was actually bouncing lines off other actors. Unlike the first movie, she was really the only one to really interact with the ghost before they turned on the family, so her role was crucial when setting up the plot.
To be frank, the movie just wasn’t good. It was like watching “Beauty and The Beast” and for some reason no one mentions the fact that the beast is a 10-foot tall furry monster other than when they use his name. It is truly a shame too because the tale of “Poltergeist” is a perfect allegory for today’s overly connected world. With the exception of a handful of well-shot scenes and a solid performance from Clements the movie fell apart, and its problems all began with a dismal script.