Remaking horror classics in the past decade has been a business all its own. The subversive form was to take an aged piece of horrific celluloid and freshen it up with a hip cast and darker approach to the mythos. Of course, not all of the remake attempts have been home runs. Typically the idea of “reimagining” an original concept turns out to just be a gender swap of characters or tweaks to the same outcomes as before. While these decisions do not ruin the film, they ultimately leave a giant stamp across the screen stating: unnecessary. The horror classic Poltergeist from 1981 brought chills and thrills to audiences young and old due to its ability to capture the essence of raising a family during the Reagan era. The family endures horrific events but all the while maintain the Spielbergian excitement that their lives aren’t completely boring. Jump to 2015 and a new take on the classic emerges with Poltergeist: the redo. Director Gil Kenan has taken the skeleton of the 1982 original and has attempted to scare audiences again, however the finished product feels uncomfortably similar to its predecessor. Survey says- “Haven’t we seen this before”?
Griffin Bowen (Kyle Catlett) is scared of most things. Whether it’s his older sister Kendra (Saxon Sharbino) dropping comments about murderers lurking around or the over abundance of clown dolls in his new room, he can’t seem to shake the feeling that something is about to snap. His parents, Eric (Sam Rockwell) and Amy (Rosemarie DeWitt), have fears of their own in finding a stable job and paying off their ever growing debt. Starting fresh in a new neighborhood seems to be the answer they need and the youngest Bowen, Madison (Kennedi Clements), has no objection to their new abode. One night Madison is taken by the ghouls and can only communicate with her family through television sets and lightbulbs. With the help of paranormal investigators, the family seeks a way to bring Madison back from the other side before she walks too far into the light.
The overall plot of this 2015 update is nearly identical to the original film. There have been small changes made, such as using more modern technology and incorporating more CGI trickery to lengthen some scenes. The idea of what the "purgatory"-esque realm looked like in the original was left to audience imagination. The remake takes an extra step to create a world that shows every ghoul and haunter inhabiting the families home. While this was an obvious decision due to the level of digital effect sophistication these days, the constant revealing of the poltergeists took the fear out of the equation. Gone were the looming booming noises circling the house that were reminiscent of "The Haunting", and instead were close-ups of CGI ghouls smirking for the camera. These moments that lack horror are thankfully remedied in scenes with the clown dolls and zombie revivals. The tension to the main attacks from the poltergeists ratchets up effectively and makes the clown moment feel earned. Another interesting change was the character of Carrigan Burke, played by Jared Harris, and his "Ghost Hunters" style reality show. Instead of calling upon a clairvoyant like in the original, the film updates to what audiences would expect now; a reality star that "makes homes clean". It was a nice change from the straight faced priest style role of many haunting/possession movies of recent years.
What bangs the last nail in the coffin for Poltergeist is that it didn’t reach for more. The fear was downplayed for humor, which doesn’t ruin the film, but gives it a questionable legitimacy as a horror retelling. Many moments that were set up for effective scares were dropped to give a laugh. While these humor moments are genuinely successful, thanks in large part to Sam Rockwell's delivery, it quickly begins to sacrifice the original intention that the plot sets up. The fear that Madison won't be rescued is missing because the family doesn't seem as horrified as they should be in the situation. While there were no inherent wrong doings or sins committed that destroy Kenan’s vision, it was just too tame and safe to be anything worth remembering
Audiences now have two choices of how to watch a family escape a poltergeist, and most likely, the original still wins the battle.