So some studio executive thought that even though the original Poltergeist was directed by horror royalty Tobe Hooper, produced by hollywood royalty Steven Speilberg and still considered as perfectly effective, creepy and great today as it was in 1982, it was due for a remake. Wheels were put in motion, script reboot completed, cast sought and hired, and a slightly nostalgic trailer released to the public – I was pretty excited. As much as I love the original, I was open to the idea of a new version and eagerly lined up last weekend to view it on opening night.
I purposely had not sought out much information before the viewing – I didn’t want any pre-conceived ideas to cloud my judgement of the film before I’d had a chance to see it.
For those that don’t know – this is a good old fashioned haunted house story – family moves to new home, home already has ‘residents’, horror ensues. Thats the very basic plot premise and it is intact in both versions of this film.
The first happy surprise was the quality of the cast, Sam Rockwell is a pleasure in everything he does and is well cast as the father of this tormented family, Rosemarie DeWitt also adds a nice indie vibe to the proceedings as the mother of this clan. The kids are a good choice particularly in looks, you can believe they are the genetic offspring of Rockwell and DeWitt. The pivotal role of the daughter (not Carolanne in this version but the more modernly named Madison) is played by Kennedi Clements who does an adequate job in a part that will always belong in our minds to the late Heather O’Rourke.
The direction by Gil Kenan is serviceable if unremarkable. The main issue is the script, but we can get back to that.
First the positives – the aforementioned Sam Rockwell and Rosemarie DeWitt are wonderful and believable as the parents, slightly cool and with some humour intact, they are parents you wouldn’t mind having yourself. Jane Adams as Dr Powell (the paranormal investigator role) is also a good choice even though nowhere near as memorable or soulful as Beatrice Straight in the same role in the original. Jared Hess is an inspired choice as the ‘this house is clean’ character – he is a welcome and successful change. They kept a lot of the same set pieces that worked so well in the original such as the tree, the clown doll, the closet etc, but these are watered down versions of events that had real impact in the original, and therefore do not punctuate the film so much as blend in with the slight blandness that casts a pall over the film like a dulling effect. Nowhere does this seem more evident than in the ‘big reveal’ – the ‘why’ of the happenings. In the first film its a shocking moment of exposition, but in this it is dinner party conversation and supposition.
As I said earlier, the problem is the script, in the original there are scenes of tenderness for the family, and some pity for the poor trapped souls in the house, there is terror in the fear of ordinary things such as toys and closets, there is a sense of the terrible toll and almost madness this horrific situation causes the parents, humour and joy at the beginning that slowly turns to discomfort and finally fear; all of these elements are gone. It feels rushed to scare you and thus loses the context and place that makes those scares resonate in the first place.
I didn’t hate this film, it was a perfectly reasonable PG-13 horror, and without the inevitable comparison to the 1982 version I may have scored it higher; but comparisons ARE inevitable, and when you take on a movie that already did it so well in the first place, theres no way to win.
Watch the original – its brilliant; this just has Sam Rockwell.