The Stephen Spielberg produced and Tobe Hooper directed film Poltergeist has been a cult classic for horror film fans for decades and many of those lifelong fans howled their consternation to the highest bowels of the Internet since it was first announced that back in 2014, although some of that angst had been relieved with the addition to director Gil Kenan to the project. For those who haven’t had the pleasure, Poltergeist centers on a family that moves into a new home only to find that it is haunted by restless spirits who’re feeling just a little bit disrespected at the fact that a community of the living has been built on top of the resting place of their mortal remains. Starring Craig T. Nelson, JoBeth Williams and Heather O’Rourke,
it is celebrated by many as the most riveting PG-rated horror film of all time for its use of suspense, intrigue and its musical score to guide the viewers’ eyes and attention to exactly what the director wants them to see without it being obvious and contrived. The 2015 remake of Poltergeist starring Sam Rockwell, Rosemarie DeWitt, Kyle Catlett, Saxon Sharbino and a young Kenndi Clements as Madison Bowen, the object of attention for the nefarious spirits. As was the case in the first film, the remake opens with the family moving into a new home after Eric Bowen, played by Sam Rockwell, is laid off from his comfortable job in an unmentioned town. So, the family has to downgrade to a cheaper home in a suburban development that had witnessed its best days in the 1990s.
In the opening scene, as well as several other instances dispersed throughout the film, electrical power lines and towers are featured prominently as a foreshadowing device. Many modern day apparition enthusiasts believe that ghosts are actually the electrical impulses and energies that the deceased leave behind when moving from this plane of existence and director Gil Kenan uses this new age interpretation of spirits in the film as the poltergeists initially make their presence felt by manipulating electrical devices within the home. I felt like that was an excellent way to modernize the old “ancient Indian burial ground” trope that has been beaten to death in so many other horror films. On their first day in the home the family’s middle child Griffin, played by Kyle Catlett, immediately senses that something is off in the home and his fears are almost immediately confirmed as he sees his sister Madison speaking into a closet door. However, his fears are eventually assuaged a bit when Madison invites him to play with the specters on several occasions. They seem playful and fun, but it’s all a set up for their come up.
This family had the misfortune of coming across the most unscrupulous realtor of all time as the developers who built the lied about removing the remains, but simply removed the tombstones and plowed over the land instead.
Yes, this was in the original Poltergeist film. However, it wasn’t revealed as being the source of the problem until well into the picture. The 2015 remake got to the nitty gritty of that matter relatively quickly.
The film takes a dramatic leap forward in action when the parents visit the family of Eric’s old college buddy with the hope of asking his rich father for a job.
Actor Sam Rockwell did a great job playing the sometimes skeptical Dad of the family. His character is responsible for breaking the tension up until the eventual abduction of Madison by the spirits. From that point on he is as emotional and dramatic as everyone else in the film. Rosemarie DeWitt’s take on wife Amy was suitable. Nothing spectacular or unique, but a good job nonetheless.
The same can be said for Saxon’s performances as Kendra. Nothing unique as far as teenage shenanigans go, but she was well-cast for the role. Really, what else was she going to be doing other than screaming, running and being a pain in the a** to her parents? I felt like the best acting in the entire film was turned in by Kyle Catlett. Throughout the film it is mentioned that he has had a problem with being skittish throughout his young life.
This is brought to light on several occasions when his parents confide in one another their concern for his toughness. During a heated moment in which he’s trying to tell his parents what’s going on in the house, his mother casually mentions that she sometimes doesn’t recall whether he or his sister is the baby of the family. Man, that’s a big time diss for a middle boy to basically be told he’s acting like a little girl. Eventually, as the instances of flickering lights and malfunctioning electronics begin to intensify into ever more frightening manifestations, Madison is abducted.
As in the original film, the family has to come up with a plan to get the little lady back from limbo and make their family whole again. Unlike the original, the remake gives us a great view into the nether realm as young Kyle eventually shakes off his fear to rush headlong to the other side to get his baby sister back. Aside from the obvious ghouls, ghosts and other things that go “bump” in the night, Poltergeist did a very good job using suspense to drive the storyline and largely avoided some very clichéd scare tactics that are often used in modern horror films; such as the fright-inducing score, uncalled for gore, graphic human suffering and the annoying elongated jaw having ghost that far too many horror films have been using over the past decade.
Poltergeist is an excellent tribute to the original but stands on its own as a pretty decent film as well. The Shadow League gives it a B minus. Why B minus? Well, it is a remake after all.