*1/2 / *****
Jason Wiese | Culture Editor
Published May 22, 2015; 9 a.m.
Was I wrong to think that Gil Kenan, the director of “Monster House,” was the right choice to remake one of the most terrifying and celebrated horror films of all time? Well, in retrospect, I should have realized that a reimagining of the 1982 classic, “Poltergeist,” would be doomed to fail anyway.
In this remake, Eric and Amy Bowen (Sam Rockwell, Rosemarie DeWitt) move into a suburban household with their three children: teenager Kendra (Saxon Sharbino), preteen Griffin (Kyle Catlett), and 6 year-old Madison (Kennedi Clements). As soon as they get settled in, as one could easily guess, hilarious… I mean, “terrible” things begin to happen at the hands of malevolent, otherworldly entities that invade their home.
This is Kenan’s third directing effort since debuting with the highly original and equally entertaining family thriller “Monster House” in 2006. With this film, Kenan, screenwriter David Lindsay-Abaire, and producers Sam Raimi and Robert G. Tapert (famous for the original “Evil Dead”) attempt to reinvent this story, that was originally produced by Steven Spielberg and directed by “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” auteur Tobe Hooper, for the digital age. At first, the idea sounds intriguing, considering how, in the original film, the family must use a television set to communicate with their young daughter after she is kidnapped by the spirits. However, this time, the television is a high-definition flat screen, allowing the audience to see the ghosts in a higher quality. If only they were scary.
The film follows the same formula as the original “Poltergeist” throughout most of it, so vintage horror fans will see almost everything coming, but everything that will come as a surprise to them will be equally disappointing. The film tries to invent its own scares without reusing too many of the original’s most notable scenes, yet instead of creating refreshingly unique and terrifying sequences, what we see is laughable, especially with the use of horrible CGI. Many of the “scary” sequences are either too long or too short for one’s satisfaction.
What made the original “Poltergeist” such a powerful horror experience was Hooper’s keen eye for striking fear in the hearts of his audience with engrossing images of the paranormal and, especially, the strong performances by JoBeth Williams and Craig T. Nelson as the mother and father, who make the distress of losing your child to evil prisoners of the underworld visually and emotionally authentic. The updated cast fails to create the same atmosphere.
As I said before, I initially believed Kenan was a good enough filmmaker to handle a remake of “Poltergeist” from how impressed I was by “Monster House,” until it dawned on me that the reason that film worked was because it was meant to be a fun, family-friendly adventure. Considering the tame scares, the cheesy comedy, and laughable acting, I now wonder if that was Kenan’s intention for this film. Make “Poltergeist” fun. Gil, that was a mistake and once Spielberg and Hooper sees this film, I envision they will be ashamed. Stick to the family movies. That is where your talents lie.