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Review by: 
Head Cheeze
Release Date: 
Aspect Ratio: 
Directed by: 
Gil Kenan
Sam Rockwell
Rosemarie DeWitt
Jared Harris
Jane Adams
Nicholas Braun
Bottom Line: 

Let’s get this out of the way. As with the bulk of the classic horror re-boots we’ve seen over the last decade and a half, there was obviously no need to remake Poltergeist. The original film still stands as one of the best and most entertaining horror flicks of all time, and it takes a serious set of cajones to think you’re going to somehow improve upon what most already regard as perfection. That being said, Hollywood’s obviously not concerned with whether or not there’s room for improvement in a remake; they just want a few weeks of solid box-office and hearty Blu-ray sales, quality be damned, so if that means remaking Citizen Kane, they’ll do it. Most often the results are predictably rubbish (Nightmare on Elm Street), but, every once-in-awhile, we get a pleasant surprise, and, in the case of Poltergeist, I’m going to go against popular opinion and call this one of the latter.

The Bowen family are searching for a new home after Eric’s (Sam Rockwell) recent lay-off has forced he and his wife, Amy (Rosemarie DeWitt), to wrangle in their finances and leave their old home behind. Much to the chagrin of their young son, Griffin (Kyle Catlett), Eric and Amy settle on a small cookie-cutter house in a crowded subdivision in hopes of getting a fresh start. While their teenage daughter Kendra (Saxon Sharbino) is more put off by the homes appearance and their youngest daughter Madison seems to be more than happy to talk to her imaginary friends, Griffen immediately senses something sinister about their new abode. From the menacing tree outside his attic to the bizarre electrical discharges around the house, Griffen is in a constant state of unease – something that Eric and Amy chalk up to his hyper-sensitive nature. However, it isn’t long before the Bowen family realizes that they aren’t the home’s only inhabitants, and, when Madison is claimed by the spirits who haunt their home, they must turn to a team of paranormal investigators to try to bring their daughter back.

With a film like 1982’s Poltergeist, there’s not a whole lot of wiggle room in terms of “re-imagining”. It’s an intimate story to begin with, so, save for a few superficial changes, David Lindsay-Abaire’s screenplay adheres to the blueprint set forth by Steven Spielberg in 1982, with some obvious tweaks made here and there to bring things up to date (Jared Harris’ “reality show” psychic, lots of high tech gizmos, and, somewhat dishearteningly, the use of a drone). At first blush, it’s so faithful to the original that, save for the showcasing some new whiz-bang effects work, one can be forgiven for wondering what, exactly, was the point of remaking the film at all. As the film wears on, however, there are some notable deviations, the most important of which is the greater focus on the “big brother” character who, here, replaces the matriarch as the film’s hero as part of his character’s transformative arc, leaving DeWitt and Rockwell with not much else to do but cry and crack-wise (respectively).

On the surface, this new Poltergeist is all rather bland and lacks the visual panache and sense of wonder we got from the original. Obviously that’s all part of the Spielberg magic (look, we all know, despite the credit suggesting otherwise, Tobe Hooper had next to nothing to do with that flick, so get over it) and I wasn’t expecting Gil Kenan (Monster House) to replicate that, but I did find myself missing things like JoBeth Williams’ Diane Freeling excitedly showing her husband how the chairs in their kitchen moved by themselves or her shocked/elated reaction to the furniture stacking itself. This “honeymoon” period, in which the Freelings were actually entertained by/enthusiastic about their playful haunting helped to draw us in and heighten our investment when things ultimately got ugly. Here, Eric and Amy are completely oblivious to the presence of the poltergeists until Madison is taken, making Griffen and Madison the only true “witnesses” to the events prior.  Even then, what should have come off as playful interactions between the kids and their ghostly co-inhabitants (especially the scene in which they dance around near the closet door enjoying a “hair-raising” bit of static discharge) are presented with more of a sense of menace and dread than wonder, and this, ultimately, softens the effect of the second act, where we learn the spirits true intentions. It basically becomes a tale of Griffen’s redemption when it should have been – and COULD have been – so much more.

The main reason I feel the omission of the family’s initial excitement about the haunting is so detrimental is part and parcel with the reason I enjoyed much of the film, and that’s the interplay between Rockwell and DeWitt, who each turn in very likeable performances. Their characters are also well fleshed-out, with Eric dealing with the humbling reality that he is no longer able to support his family the way he is accustomed to, and Amy doing her best to keep a brave face while trying to keep Eric both motivated and realistic in his search for a new job. When Eric breaks down after discovering that most of his credit cards have been deactivated, he reacts by using the one good card he has left to lavish his family with expensive gifts to show them he can still provide for them, while a horrified Amy has to balance both disapproval of his rash actions with a show of faith. It’s a great scene and really heightens our investment in the Bowens, and it makes their relegation to the sidelines all the more infuriating.  It would have been fantastic to see the couple “mess around” with the poltergeists in the same way JoBeth Williams and Craig T. Nelson did in the original film, giving them something of a reprieve from their financial concerns, and, ultimately, a sense of guilt that they would have inadvertently played an unwitting part in the spirts endgame. It would have given them something to chew on in a third act that, save for Griffin’s selfless act, is virtually devoid of any other sense of emotional investment. It’s a shame that Hollywood seems to have abandoned the idea of making horror movies about adults, because had the focus been squarely on Eric and Amy all along, giving Rockwell and DeWitt room to exercise their excellent acting chops, comedic timing, and instincts, the new Poltergeist could have been a very solid flick, but, sadly, it follows the formula of the current glut of rote paranormal offerings it hoped to cash in on.

Rant aside, the film is still entertaining enough, and offers (mostly) family friendly scares that make it a decent weekend watch with the older kids. The visual FX are quite good (I really enjoyed our glimpses of the spirit world), the performances are solid, and there are a surprising amount of laugh-out-loud funny moments (once again, courtesy of Rockwell). It’s obviously not going to make anyone forget about the original film, and I’m pretty certain that no one involved in its production ever entertained that notion for a second.

Fox brings Poltergeist to Blu-ray in a virtually pristine 2.40:1 1080p transfer that boasts a very sharp image, excellent overall contrast, and scrumptious detail. The 7.1 DTS HD mix is absolutely bonkers in terms of both fidelity and overall oomph, with bass for days and crisp and snappy highs.

Bonus features are surprisingly scant, with only a throwaway alternate ending (HD), and a pair of trailers (HD) offered, as well as both the theatrical and “extended” versions of the film.



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