Dir: Gil Kenan
Written By: David Lindsay-Abaire
Starring: Sam Rockwell, Rosemarie DeWitt, Jared Harris, Saxon Sharbino and Jane Adams
Running Time- 93 Mins
Having moved into their new home, the Bowens soon find themselves the target of a malevolent supernatural force that seems to be targeting their youngest daughter.
Let’s not sugar-coat things, 2015 has, thus far, been an absolutely terrible year for horror. After riding the seemingly endless roller-coaster of thrills and chills of the past two years, it was sadly inevitable that the good times would have to end at some point. The severity of the impact of the headache-inducing comedown has still been a shock, to put it mildly. An endless barrage of needless sequels to already tired and lazy franchises is still to come, It Follows was monumentally over-hyped and quite frankly, the less said about the odious Unfriended, the better.
Things certainly didn’t look to get any better with the promise of yet another pointless remake in Poltergeist. It should be noted that it does have had horror legend, Sam Raimi, as producer, who has much highlighted the notion that this film was to breathe new life and scares to the foundation of the original. This little caveat of promotion, however, should be remembered as being the same one he used when describing the Evil Dead ‘update’. Need any more be said?
Films must be judged to rise and fall entirely on their own merits however. If Poltergeist 2015 is therefore to be assessed as its own individual creation, it is very very little more than a lowest common denominator haunted house horror. The film’s bag of tricks that it attempts to use in order to shock and spook is empty, a void of imagination or originality. To be brutally frank, were it not for the prestige of the film’s name, or the star power of Sam Rockwell, this is Tesco bargain bin-fodder at its most mediocre.
To begin with, the Bowens are a remarkably unlikeable family. What little attempts to give them any more depth than being average, white and middle class solely comes in the form of the fact that they are apparently ‘broke’. This set-up is dropped repeatedly like a particularly slippery bar of soap, by the woefully clunky script with exposition and ‘scare set-ups’ rammed in with the grace of trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. For a family with no money, the luxuries of a flat-screen TV and various other flashy mod-cons seem to be ever-present. The height of this ridiculousness is found in the obnoxiously blunt piece of product placement, where a drone is used to capture what the ‘other world’ looks like on camera. Yes, really.
More sympathy or a stronger sense of connection might have been evoked from an audience if any of the family could actually do that little thing required usually of actors…and that is to actually be able to act. It beggars belief that of the presumably thousands of auditions, the production team settled on a boy who delivers every line in the same monotone drone with a blank face to match, a surly teenager devoid of any defining character and an annoying little brat who should have been left in the other world and never seen again. With a surly mother figure in Rosemarie DeWitt and a very much ‘for the money’ phoned in performance from Jared Harris (hilariously creaky Oirish accent in tow), the adults fare absolutely no better.
Mercifully, there is one figure who prevents the film from being an outright disaster. Sam Rockwell, the man who consistently has had to come to the aid of some pretty poor films in the past is forced to do so here yet again. Rockwell easily pulls of the cool dad figure, cracking wise and horsing around with his kids but it’s the fact that he’s the only actor here who shows emotion and vulnerability that barely lifts up the film from being nothing but a tedious headache. Even Rockwell, however, can’t completely save the film from being such a mediocre slog, indeed, as the film progresses, it becomes more and more evident that he is bored and no longer enjoying the responsibility of having to hold everything else up. Perhaps the film’s greatest mistake is that in casting an actor with such natural charisma as with no-one to bounce it off with, all the other actors pale greatly and detrimentally in comparison.
It would be wrong to claim that the original Poltergeist is an untouchable solid gold masterpiece. The primary element of the original that still holds up to this day, however, is its undeniable sense of charm and indeed, warmth. The entire piece has a surprisingly winsome attitude, much like the films of producer, Steven Spielberg (the debate still continues as to whether or not he really directed it). Crucially, the scares in the original are built up very gradually and to start with, the family treat the supernatural occurrences as a bit of fun. Where the remake dramatically falls down is in its desperate attempt to keep up the current ‘quiet quiet quiet BANG!” craze. There are moments in which it does try admirably to build up tension, the clever use of cutting off a soundtrack is most effective but then it gets bored and resorts to a load of crash-bang-wallop CGI that looks horrifically creaky and laughable.
Without going into too great detail, there are several allusions the film makes that could have dramatically changed its direction and really could have made it stand out from the pack of copy/pastewithabitmoreCGI remakes and be its own beast. Sadly, the film eschews the opportunity to travel down the murky waters of ‘originality’ and instead favours the woeful misappropriation of the creepy clown doll scare from the first film. Clearly the lesson from Annabelle of “for god’s sake that doll is obviously evil, just look at it and throw it in the bin’ was not heeded and what was such a masterfully patient build up fright from the original, becomes a completely dispensable piece of fan-service in 2015.
Poltergeist 2015 is a film that looks and feels tired and is extremely tiresome. Whilst we horror fans can cry blue murder when the classics are tinkered in ways we find abhorrent (ie Rob Zombie’s Halloween to name the most obvious example), at least a little bit of passion was put into such projects. There is no passion, no desire to make people scared or even thrilled here, Poltergeist is nothing more than a studio machine, designed to extract your money by reeling you in using the name and then convincing you that you want more of this rubbish by the film’s sure fire box-office success.
Here’s hoping The Gallows and The Hallow can breathe life back into horror in 2015.
Verdict: Dull, entirely forgettable and beyond even the power of Sam Rockwell to be saved by.