Review: Poltergeist (2015)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #706


Number of Views: One
Release Date: May 18, 2015
Sub-Genre: Supernatural
Country of Origin: United States
Budget: $35,000,000
Box-Office: $95, 400,000
Running Time: 101 minutes
Director: Gil Kenan
Producers: Roy Lee, Sam Raimi, Robert G. Tapert
Screenplay: David Lindsay-Abaire
Based on Poltergeist by Tobe Hooper and Steven Spielberg
Special Effects: Jim McFall, Barry Watkins, Mark Wotton
Visual Effects: Pierre Buffin, Berj Bannayan, Nicolas Hernandez, Geoffrey Niquet, Glen Pratt, Jeremy Robert, Ariel Velasco-Shaw, Dean Wright, Chris Zapara
Cinematography: Javier Aguirresarobe
Score: Marc Streitenfeld
Editing: Jeff Betancourt, Bob Murawski
Studios: Ghost House Pictures, Real World Pictures, Vertigo Entertainment
Distributors: 20th Century Fox, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures
Stars: Sam Rockwell, Rosemarie DeWitt, Jared Harris, Jane Adams, Saxon Sharbino, Kyle Catlett, Kennedi Clements, Nicholas Braun, Susan Heyward, Soma Bhatia


Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫

[1] Spoon “T.V. Set”

[2] Marc Streitenfeld “Opening Credits”

[3] Marc Streitenfeld “Main Theme”


It is a well-documented fact that moving into a new house is one of the most stressful undertakings to embark on. Indeed, if recent research statistics are to be believed, then almost two in three of us place it above a relationship breakdown, divorce or even a new job in the list of potential headaches. Just getting as far as exchanging contracts can be traumatic enough, not to mention the challenges that await once you actually relocate. You see, every home has its own individual nuances, creaks and groans, and a personality which may or may not mesh well with that of its guests. Throw in an unruly poltergeist or ten and your new address may well be Shit Street and I’m reasonably sure that nobody wishes to inhabit those particular coordinates.


When the collective might of Tobe Hooper and Steven Spielberg combined in 1982 to bring us Poltergeist, the filmmaking public were treated to an effects-laden big budget extravaganza that managed the unlikely feat of entertaining the hell out of its audience, while frightening us out of our skins to boot. It was an intriguing concoction of thrills and chills that somehow worked a treat and defied the odds to become one of the eighties’ premier scary movies. It was around that time that I thanked the heavens for not having a hundred year old oak tree situated outside my bedroom window and also the same one whereby I cut all ties with clowns for the foreseeable. It was inevitable that, sooner or later, some brave soul would attempt a remake and, well over thirty years on, that is precisely what has occurred.


Needless to say, this project was initially met with considerable skepticism and quite rightly so too. The Hollywood hit machine is a relentless beast, churning out movies for the masses with the sole goal being maximum profit, and traditionally remakes of old horror classics have been largely uninspired affairs so things didn’t bode well without the deft touch of Spielberg or Hooper to steer things in the right direction. It’s all well and good updating films such as this for a modern audience but the original hasn’t exactly dated badly and still feels every bit as fresh three decades on so what could new director Gil Kenan possibly hope to bring to the table? It certainly didn’t harm that horror’s number one son Sam Raimi’s name was attached but it’s fair to say that expectations have needed to be realistic.


Israeli-British-American Kenan had previously been responsible for the likes of Monster House and City of Ember so, while reasonably well qualified, this is his first foray into horror and a tough ask on paper given how masterful its predecessor was. The real question here is whether not he opts for a shot-for-shot approach or attempts to push the story into a new and unique direction and the answer is that Poltergeist comprises a little of both. Certain cherished scenes are affectionately reinvented and provided with a fresh lick of post-millennial paint, while the Freeling family have now been replaced by the equally hapless Bowen clan and he has a few tricks tucked up his sleeve in an attempt at setting this apart from its illustrious forerunner.


Parents Eric (Sam Rockwell) and Amy (Rosemarie DeWitt) are looking to purchase a new home for themselves and their three children: Kendra (Saxon Sharbino), Griffin (Kyle Catlett), and cute as a button six-year-old Madison (Kennedi Clements). The problem is that Eric has recently been laid off from his job and his writer wife has no bankable income, meaning that the price point is a crucial factor and, when this particular property comes onto the market at a more than reasonable asking price, they snap it up and move in the moment the contract is signed. The Bowens are a pretty typical American family by all accounts and Eric is determined to remain positive even though their future appears far from secure. If only he knew. You see, an Indian burial ground isn’t the best place to secure your foundations, particularly when only the headstones were moved prior to construction. I’m guessing we all know the spiel by now.


So to the inevitable bumps in the night and Kenan wastes little time before breaking out the ghastlies for a good old-fashioned free-for-all. All the usual suspects are present and correct including that ominous tree, although the heinous doll of yesteryear has now been replaced by a whole box of harrying harlequins. Meanwhile, it isn’t long before little Maddie familiarizes herself with some new acquaintances courtesy of their flat-screen TV which curiously comes complete with old-school static and the kitchen sink is thrown at us during one scene whereby all hell quite literally breaks loose. It’s hard not to feel like the director is attempting just to get the obvious over with in one fell swoop and, while reasonably exhilarating, this scene ends up little more than an exercise in going through the motions.


Before we know it, the Bowens are one short of their tally and rushing to the nearest Paranormal Research department for some divine interception. It all feels a tad rushed and would have benefitted from allowing more time to explore these strange occurences, meaning that fans of the original will no doubt be rolling their eyes at around this point. Quickly realizing that her team are well out of their depth, lead investigator, Dr. Brooke Powell (a well cast Jane Adams), decides to call on the services of her estranged ex, master of the occult and television personality Carrigan Burke (Jared Harris) and we’re back in familiar territory once more. What I would’ve given for a dash of Tangina, although the mildly disagreeable character of Burke is certainly a welcome addition.


From hereon in, it’s business as usual once more although, since the emergence of James Wan’s crowd-pleasing chiller Insidious in 2010, it cannot help but echo the approach. On the plus side, the final fifteen minutes are well orchestrated and tread an exclusive path without opting for over-familiarity, and Kenan cannot be accused of not giving it his all for the cause. The real issue here is whether or not it was necessary to update the formula in the first place. A handful of standard jolt scares and committed performance from Rockwell aside, the answer is unfortunately a resounding no.


That said, it does precisely what it states on the tin and mercifully doesn’t cop out by painting entirely by numbers as is often the case with reboots. All things considered, Kenan’s film is far from the turkey that certain purists had it billed at and spreads enough incident across its 101 minutes to never once grow tiresome. It’s never anything less than workmanlike but don’t go expecting any sleepless nights in the foreseeable as they’re unlikely to be on the agenda. Should you not have had the experience of Poltergeist first-hand then I guess that here would be as good a place as any to commence. Just don’t go expecting to be peeking beneath your bed once the bells start jingling.


Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 6/10

Dread Factor: 2/5

For the Dread-Heads: Credit where it’s due, the Poltergeist remix finds new and fairly inventive ways of refurnishing old scares from yesteryear. The problem is that they bring little additional to the table where fear is concerned and are over as fast as they have begun. Over the past thirty years or so, and particularly in the previous ten, audiences have become increasingly desensitized to the standard shocks on offer here and, for all their best intentions, things never truly escalate beyond the token mild peril.

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Read Poltergeist (1982) Appraisal
Read Insidious Appraisal
Read The Conjuring Appraisal
Read Sinister Appraisal

Richard Charles Stevens

Keeper of The Crimson Quill

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