Poltergeist (2015)

Synopsis via IMDB: A family whose suburban home is haunted by evil forces must come together to rescue their youngest daughter after the apparitions take her captive.

The late Heather O'Rourke once gleefully and excitedly told audiences “they’re here!” It’s more than appropriate that when this rehash of Poltergeist tasks a new young girl with repeating that classic line, she is unable to muster nearly as much liveliness in her delivery. Her blank stare and monotone voice mirrors my enthusiasm for yet another instance of a film studio reaching into its back catalog and violently digging up a franchise… much like the horrific exhumation of those poor bastards buried under the Freeling household.

There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with the idea of a remake, as long as the filmmaker has something fresh to say and do with the intellectual property in question. Unfortunately, Gil Kenan’s Poltergeist brings nothing new to the table. To be fair, Steven Spielberg and Tobe Hooper are a hard act to follow. This remake is very safe, without much discernible style beneath its slick, modern surface. This is a typical PG-13 horror film - disposable and forgettable.

At the very least, you’d think the advances in special effects would afford a more thrilling, spectacular haunting, but the result is the opposite. If you watch this film and the original back to back like I did, you’ll miss the beauty of the old school optical creature effects that make the 1982 version so special. In fact, this is a far tamer and subtler film, which is surprising considering remakes usually try their best to outdo the material they’re derived from. There are a few fun gags here and there (particularly in 3d considering it was filmed natively in the format) but there’s nothing that we haven’t seen before, and done better in recent films like Insidious and The Conjuring.

The performances are serviceable enough with Sam Rockwell being his usual likable self, and Jared Harris playing a strange replacement for Zelda Rubenstein’s character, but the family at the center of the story never really gels together and only serves to make you appreciate the ensemble in the original film. It also brings home just how much of a talent Heather O'Rourke was, and how important her on screen personality was to making Poltergeist work.

Also missing is Jerry Goldsmith’s beautiful and creepy score. The music here is forgettable in comparison.

The original film had something to say about the culture and politics of greed in the 1980’s, where profit, progress and building a new housing development on the cheap was more of a priority than respecting the dead and their sacrifices that modern society was built upon. While this message is still just as relevant in 2015 as it was back then, it’s a little lost in the remake due to the omission and reshuffling of certain characters. There seems to be more of a focus on the modern obsession with social media and digital devices, with the little girl being literally lost to her family inside a television screen. Obviously, this also happened in the original, but taket on new meaning nowadays and is probably the most interesting part of the film. The new relevance of this story element is the best reason I can think of to justify the film being remade for modern audiences, but it’s really not enough.

It saddens me to see Sam Raimi’s name on this thing. I actually liked the Evil Dead remake from a couple of years ago. While not quite reaching the creative height of Raimi’s own Evil Dead films, it was brutal and off-the-wall enough to satisfy fans. In comparison, the nicest thing I can say about Poltergeist 2015 is that it’s better than Poltergeist III. Anyone who’s seen Poltergeist III can tell you that’s not much of a compliment, since it’s a gigantic pile of brown, sloppy… uh… ectoplasm. We can only hope the Poltergeist curse will strike this film and turn it into a ghost at the box office, deterring future pointless horror remakes.

Concept/Story: 0 (it’s a remake of a classic, can’t give it much credit)
Direction/Style: 0.5
Scares: 0.5
Atmosphere: 0.5
Rewatchability: 0

That only adds up to 1.5, but I’ll give an extra 2.5 for the cast and for the few fun horror gags.

Total: 4/10