POLTERGEIST (2015) | ©2015 20th Century Fox/MGM

POLTERGEIST (2015) | ©2015 20th Century Fox/MGM

Rating: PG-13
Sam Rockwell, Rosemarie DeWitt, Saxon Charbino, Kyle Catlett, Kennedi Clements, Jane Adams, Jared Harris, Susan Heyward, Nicholas Braun
David Lindsay-Abaire, story by Steven Spielberg
Gil Kenan
Twentieth Century Fox
Release Date:
May 22, 2015

In 1982, POLTERGEIST was largely deemed to be scary as hell. A haunted house tale with extra oomph, it incited everything front nightmares to (in especially impressionable viewers) strange TV viewing habits. The film spawned two sequels, a non sequitur TV series, and now, thirty-three years later, it has an official remake.

Despite the fact that POLTERGEIST hardly needs a remake – if the new film had a different title, there are enough differences to make it a wholly separate haunted house piece – the new iteration works well enough. Yes, there are a whole lot of logic issues, starting with the fact that recently laid-off dad Eric (Sam Rockwell) and not-writing writer mom Amy (Rosemarie DeWitt) can afford to move from wherever they were living to the two-story, four-bedroom empty house that’s the setting for the film. Still, the actors have conviction and director Gil Kenan is good at staging jump scares, and when the aims are this clearly modest, that counts for a lot.

Eldest daughter, teenager Kendra (Saxon Charbino), is simply exasperated at being moved from her friends (a downside here is that the remake never thinks to exploit the Skype on Kendra’s computer, which seems like it would fit). Middle child Griffin (Kyle Catlett) is already so frightened of everything that Amy would like him to go to therapy, though Eric waves it off. Little Madison (Kennedi Clements) is happy talking to her new “friends” that nobody else can see – until she vanishes.

It’s a credit to writer David Lindsay-Abaire, adapting the story created for the original by Steven Spielberg, that he spends the least amount of time possible getting Eric and Amy to believe something supernatural is afoot. The audience of course knows this from the outset, and at this point in movie history, unless the creative team has something new to do with disbelief that must inevitably be shattered, it seems not only expedient but actually wise and even humane to provide the characters with proof and move ahead with the story.

On the flip side, some things aren’t explained properly. The major plot point that Madison has a special gift, which powers up what’s in the house (and explains why this hasn’t happened until now), isn’t really set up or laid out in a way that hits home, and that box full of clown dolls remains a complete mystery.

There’s no attempt to provide a character anywhere near as startling as Zelda Rubinstein’s authoritative medium Tangina from the original. Instead, we get a modestly amusing turn by Jared Harris as unscripted ghost-busting TV star Carrigan Burke. There are hints at a longer back story that we don’t get, but he works in context.

Rockwell and DeWitt are convincing in their parental anguish, Clements is adorable and Catlett does a very good job of conveying an innate sense of dread that is in some way validated when his character comes across something that warrants it.

The POLTERGEIST remake is not likely to add anything to the filmic horror lexicon, but in terms of genre summer programming, it must be said that it’s better than some of the original material currently out there.

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