2015, PG-13, 93 min. Directed by Gil Kenan. Starring Sam Rockwell, Rosemarie DeWitt, Kennedi Clements, Kyle Catlett, Saxon Sharbino, Jane Adams, Jared Harris, Nicholas Braun, Susan Heyward.
REVIEWED By William Goss, Fri., May 29, 2015
Since 1982, film nerds have debated whether the credited Tobe Hooper had indeed directed the horror hit Poltergeist or whether producer Steven Spielberg took the helm. After all, it was the latter who came up with the story of yet another suburban family at odds with a spectacular invasion, storyboarded the whole thing, and reportedly spent most days on set despite being under contract to Universal to exclusively direct E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial.
It may be equally difficult to discern who was responsible for this year’s Poltergeist remake, but that’s mostly a matter of how generic the end result turned out. Following in the wake of 2011’s Insidious, which was also deeply indebted to the original Poltergeist, this version – directed by Gil Kenan, produced by Sam Raimi (The Evil Dead) – makes largely cosmetic changes to the material without offering much in the way of distinctive frights.
This time around, financial woes have reluctantly brought the Bowen clan into a two-story foreclosure. While recently laid-off Eric (Rockwell) and blocked writer Amy (DeWitt) grapple with which of them should become the breadwinner, teen daughter Kendra (Sharbino) pouts about the lack of a nearby mall, middle kid Griffin (Catlett) objects to his new attic bedroom with its looming willow tree, and youngest Madison (Clements) begins to unwittingly befriend the vengeful spirits of those bodies still lurking beneath the community.
“At least it wasn’t an ancient tribal burial ground!” cracks a neighbor in the know, because God forbid that a modern American horror film wrestle with anything as unseemly as our nation’s own horrific legacy. The parents also hit the bottle rather than puff some pot, and a melting face takes on the vaguely icky consistency of black goo. Being tame is the name of the game here, and in bucking the original’s other defining attribute, this fractured family must be predictably galvanized through otherworldly trauma rather than being fairly well-adjusted and merely tested by it.
For every fun sequence involving scampering clown dolls or a retaliatory power drill, there’s an arbitrary update such as a handy remote-controlled drone or a popular catchphrase-turned-hashtag (#thishouseisclean), and the single liveliest shot evokes Kenan’s first film, the more blatantly Spielbergian Monster House. That tale of a kid-consuming domicile actually had a playful personality about it; in contrast, Poltergeist feels nothing if not disposable. One week, they’re herrrrrrrrre, but the next week, it’s gone, exorcised from our collective memory.