POLTERGEIST: A curse on audiences everywhere



At home in a long line of unrequested Hollywood remakes, the announcement of 2015’s POLTERGEIST was first met with a resounding, “Really?” Whether you worship Tobe Hooper’s original film or you are indifferent to it, revisiting the film today is a confounding decision. In the end, the new POLTERGEIST is a soulless remake that fails to scare.
I grew up with 1982’s POLTERGEIST. I was never blown away by the campiness or the mediocre direction, but I did love the legend of the film. The real life curse of POLTERGEIST and use of actual skeletons in the practical effects was interesting enough to satiate my appetite for horror, even with the ho-hum film. Remaking such an average film seemed odd to me, but I concede that there are plenty of fans who adore the original film. If these fans of the original film are the intended target for this remake, the studio (MGM, Vertigo) really does not understand horror fans.
In this version of POLTERGEIST the general plot of the film is the same. A family moves into a budget friendly house, only to find that it is teeming with paranormal activity. These poltergeists kidnap the youngest daughter in the family and bring her to their dimension so that she can lead them to the final realm of the afterlife. The family contacts poltergeist researchers and together the try the best to save the young girl and escape the damned house alive.
The casting of POLTERGEIST is a bit off.  Kyle Catlett is excellent as the uptight, anxious middle child Griffin. The youngest daughter Madison (Kennedi Clements) is just as adorable as she is unsettling, which is impressive given the careful balance needed in that role. But performance by Saxon Sharbino, as the teenage daughter Kendra, is a giant weak point in the film. She is capable of looking confused, but never quite captures the terror of what is happening to her family. Teenagers need to sway from annoyed to protective to naïve, often in a single scene, and her performance does not rise to the occasion. Sam Rockwell was an odd choice for the father, and he never seems to completely shut off his smartassedness. Rosemarie DeWitt is amazing, as always, in the role of the mother. She adds much needed heart and honesty to the film, and it makes me wish that she had better roles than this.
POLTERGEIST commits three of the cardinal sins of bad horror films: the musical score telegraphs every single jump-scare, all of the characters make astoundingly dumb decisions, and it is just plain boring. I could go on about the fact that it gets very old getting a musical cue for every single interesting scare, thus negating any attempts at atmosphere or fear. Or I could drone on about all of the metaphorical staircases the family continuously runs up. But none of that matters in a film that drags like this one does.
To no one’s surprise, I heartily advise that you skip seeing POLTERGEIST. Revisit the original film if you are a diehard fan, and tell the studios to try to focus on creating new scares, for a change.

Deirdre Crimmins

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Deirdre (Dede) lives in Chicago (via Boston and Cleveland) with two black cats. She writes for Film Thrills, High Def Digest, The Brattle Theater, Rue Morgue Magazine, Birth.Movies.Death., and anyone else who will let her drone on about genre film. She wrote her Master's thesis on George Romero and is always hopeful that Hollywood will get its head out of its ass.

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