Remakes aren’t inherently a bad thing. When a story or an idea is good, it can always be told from a different perspective or with a new twist. A remake should utilize its source material as a foundation and then build something unique on top of that.
Poltergeist is not that remake.
In fact, it’s one of the most shameless copy-and-paste jobs I can think of in recent years. The film is a beat for beat retread of the 1982 original, making the most minor of changes in order to pass itself off as a new take. This is extra disheartening when director Gil Kenan attempts to add little flourishes of originality throughout the film. These are all strictly visual gags, and although they aren’t groundbreaking, they seem positively radiant next to the dim bulb that is the rest of Poltergeist.
There are piecemeal elements of the film that work. The two youngest children actually give solid performances (shame about their older sister though) and Rosemarie DeWitt is fine as their mother. Sam Rockwell is probably going to be a draw for some people, but his performance fluctuates between earnestness and boredom so much that it never solidifies into anything worth investing in. Jared Harris does what he can with his Zelda Rubinstein stand-in Carrigan Burke, but it’s nothing worth remembering.
That’s probably the worst crime Poltergeist commits: it is thoroughly unmemorable. Again, that has a lot to do with it cloning itself directly from Tobe Hooper’s *cough*Spielberg’s*cough* film. The few detours it does take get drowned in a sea of “been there, done that.” For example, where the original film offered up commentaries about the dark side of suburbia and the risks of unobtrusive parenting, this new version looks like it wants to talk about ecological concerns (the development the family lives in is stationed next to a bunch of power lines) and the struggle of maintaining a family during economic hardship. These are interesting and different themes that the movie could explore. Nope! The film is more focused on checking off a list of things it needs to do in order to be a Poltergeist movie.
I’ll give the film this much: it’s nice to see young kids in genuine peril. Although you know things will turn out alright, the movie does have moments where the children are put into tangible terror. This is very clearly a horror film aimed at younger viewers, and on that level it works. I only wish there was more surrounding these instances that felt as inspired.
To be fair, there are those visual gags I mentioned earlier. There’s some really fun stuff involving light and shadows that felt fresh, and the one standout moment of the movie is when we get to see what the other side looks like. It’s not terribly exhilarating in terms of its design (lots and lots of bodies all writhing together) but at least it’s something.
Poltergeist is a movie I can only recommend to undiscerning youngsters who can’t vibe with the dated original. They’ll get a kick out of the film, but otherwise this is a textbook example of how not to remake a movie. The lavish devotion to the original robs this version of any chance at being memorable, and if you’re someone who really loves the original, you’ll probably groan at a lot of the ways the film appropriates classic lines and scenes. Be forewarned, “This house is clean,” is now a hashtag. I think that sums up the movie pretty well.