Poltergeist (2015)
Poltergeist (2015)

Genre: Supernatural Horror Running Time: 1 hr. 33 min.

Release Date: May 22nd, 2015 MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: Gil Kenan Actors: Sam Rockwell, Rosemarie DeWitt, Saxon Sharbino, Kyle Catlett, Kennedi Clements, Jared Harris, Jane Adams, Susan Heyward, Nicholas Braun

 


 

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he opening shot, involving an iPad and a video game, immediately suggests that the now classic 1982 version is getting an update – at least in technology. And with the subsequent appearances of cell phones, GPS trackers, and a drone, it’s evident that advanced technology plays a part in retrofitting this archetypal haunted house flick. But, outside of a few modernized visuals (including flashier computer graphics), there’s really nothing new or fresh or even frightening about this tragically familiar ghost movie.

Amy Bowen (Rosemarie DeWitt), a writer, and her husband Eric (Sam Rockwell), a John Deere corporate offices employee, relocate to a pleasant little suburban home to start a new chapter in their life. Their three children – teenaged Kendra (Saxon Sharbino), middle child Griffin (Kyle Catlett), and tiny young Maddy (Kennedi Clements) – aren’t enthusiastic about the move, but they’re resigned to its inevitability. After some brief pleasantries with the real estate agent, Maddy kicks things off by eerily talking to something – or someone – in her tightly shut closet.

Griffin is the most uncertain about his new environment, especially since he’s relegated to the attic, where an enormous tree’s branches dangle ominously over a skylight. It doesn’t help that he’s afraid of just about everything (“Some kids are just nervous”), from the creeks of the old house settling to a mild rainstorm. But his fears become all too relevant when enraged ghosts begin creating electric shocks, flickering lights, and static interference on the television set… as well as controlling the movements of creepy clown dolls that were stashed away in an upstairs nook.

“There’s nothing to be afraid of.” Although impactful in 1982, the story of an angry poltergeist is now a pretty typical haunted house scenario. The slow build to greater acts of paranormal disorder, the nerve-jangling music, the loud noises, and the leisurely walks down empty hallways by isolated individuals have all become standard elements of such projects. And the jump scares, always arriving in the most predictable manner (just after a second or two of total calm), further cheapen the potential for genuinely skin-crawling notions. Here, the dialogue – while comparatively generic and expected as a horror movie trope – is noticeably sillier, as writer David Lindsay-Abaire and director Gil Kenan attempt to pay homage to the somewhat family-friendly tone of Steven Spielberg and Tobe Hooper’s original (one of those older PG films that would have been PG-13 if the rating existed). It’s particularly troubling that believable, or at least sincere, exchanges couldn’t be crafted, especially since innovation in the storyline never seems like a concern.

Setting the perspective from that of children makes the happenings slightly more frightening (or so Spielberg believed from his numerous attempts at the gimmick), coupled with the adults’ natural reluctance to listen to youngsters’ wild ramblings about extrasensory occurrences. But since this remake feels designed for juvenile audiences, chiefly with its avoidance of bloodshed, its frequent humor (provided even by the Department of Paranormal Research members, who should be taking this material more seriously than anyone else), and its sporadic sense of adventure, there’s very little scariness (or true thrills) to be found. When Carrigan Burke (Jared Harris), the reality TV star of “Haunted House Cleaners,” arrives like Father Merrin (from “The Exorcist”) for a showdown with an accustomed enemy, he instead has more in common with John Goodman’s plucky exterminator from “Arachnophobia,” who was entirely comic relief.

– Mike Massie

  • 2/10