They left the title but they moved the scares! They left the title but moved the scares! Why?! Why?! Now that I’ve had my little Craig T. Nelson outburst, I’m pretty surprised how ordinary “Poltergeist” is. It’s not the worst remake of all time, but it’s just ordinary. It’s bland, lifeless, vanilla, and feels like what the Lifetime Channel in America would do to a remake of the Tobe Spielberg classic haunting film. I think the only reason Gil Kenan was hired for this movie was because the movie is based around a monster house and he depicted a monster so well in his last film that the job only seemed like a no brainer. The problem is Kenan forgets to produce likable characters and interesting scares during the process of producing an evil possessed house.
Kenan and co. pay homage to the original film in their own ways, but they never really give us anything worth remembering beyond leaving the film with “Remember that scene? Yeah they did the same thing in the original.” There’s nothing here that leaves its mark as an original dose of horror that could leave viewers stained. I did like the drill bit quite a lot, but that’s less a scare moment and more a moment based on mounting tension and zero delivery. Every time the film seems to approach the delivery of a haunted house gag, Kenan kind of backs off and opts for his own family friendly horror film. Surely the film is marketed toward teens primarily, but much of the goo and ooze are gone in favor of a sanitary and, I repeat, vanilla regurgitation of the original 1982 film. Even the clown gag isn’t as menacing as it was in the original, with its outstretched arm and maniacal mug. The remake garners more modern effects but that doesn’t make them better in the long run.
The effects for this remake will likely look old in a few years while the original still maintains its glossy horror that inspire awe and terror, from the lion monster, to the glowing woman coming down the spiral steps. Besides, with so many studios already having pulled off wonderful haunted house fare, Gil Kenan’s work feels lackluster, almost as if it dodges any and all opportunities to create something of his very own. You could have called it “Poltergeist” and offered up a new twist on the formula, but Kenan is happiest playing it safe. There’s no lion ghost, no skeletons in swamp water, and very little ooze during the big sequence involving trying to fetch young Maddie back. The cast are for the most part really good with folks like Rosemarie DeWitt adding eye candy and an empathetic matriarch, while Sam Rockwell Sam Rockwells all over the film as a wise cracking dad who seems cynical even when young Maddie is pulled in to the other world with the poltergeists.
The main focus of the movie is shifted to the middle brother, who knows of the house’s menacing inner workings before just about everyone and becomes the hero when he seeks to save young Madison from he ghosts within the walls. The shift is awkward, and completely unnecessary considering the fault was pitted on the parents in the original, thus it became their quest to win their daughter back. Yes, I’m comparing it to the original often, because Kenan re-uses a lot of devices from the 1982 film, even giving Jared Harris the catchphrase “This House is Clean.” Truth be told it barely stacks up to the original, and as a ghost film in its own right it’s painfully mediocre, and can barely stand beside heavyweights like “Haunted,” “The Conjuring,” and “The Innkeepers.”