I sat in disbelief once this movie had finished. The reason being, with all of my reservations on the film, I enjoyed Poltergeist. No, it doesn’t hold a flickering candle to the original, but this is a movie that wants you to have as much fun as it wants to scare you. That doesn’t make up for the shorthand story which lacks a defined beginning and end. Still, it’s better than you’d imagine, and is more enjoyable than reviews have made it out to be. Poltergeist, this time around, is not chilling or destined for horror lore, and in despite of its own undoings, the movie simply works. It’s a worthy escape for moviegoers wanting clear scares and earned – partially – dramatic stakes.
As I said earlier, Poltergeist’s worst aspect is its lack of a start. This is the anxious kid in the grade school track meet, jumping the gun every time trying to get ahead of the pack. By doing so, the movie wastes zero time in getting into the thick of things. The Bowen family, struck by layoffs and hard times, moves to an old development neighborhood to start a new and less glamorous chapter in their lives. Even with the rimfire pace, it’s impressive how successfully it sets up each family member and their function within the unit. Eric (Sam Rockwell) is the out of work dad trying to play bread-winner, let go by John Deere and an almost famous former baseball star in his youth. Amy (Rosemarie DeWitt) stays home with her kids. She’s a writer, even though she doesn’t write. Kendra (Saxon Sharbino) is the oldest and glued to her cellphone. Griffin (Kyle Catlett) is the scaredy cat middle child afraid of his own shadow. And Madison (Kennedi Clements) is the youngest, purest of the bunch. Take a stab at which one the Poltergeist lures into its trap.
Madison is taken by the spirits, and from there it’s a race against the clock to get her back before she’s gone for good. I was most skeptical about Jared Harris’ character Carrigan Burke, filling in the role previously played by the infamous Zelda Rubinstein. He hosts a reality TV show to drive ghosts away from their hauntings, and it provides an interesting new twist on the character. This is a solid, well-rounded cast, and to my surprise gives the young child actors a lot to work with. That doesn’t count for Sharbino’s character though, who really could have been cut from the film entirely. But overall they click together well, and there is a real familial chemistry between them, led by the engaging and often funny Rockwell and the maternally theatrical DeWitt.
Poltergeist goes for depth this time around with uneven results. Given our pixellated world of touch screens and devices, I was a bit dismayed but the unwillingness to address those things. To make the poltergeist, which communicates and feeds off of electronics, an inescapable presence. The terror factor would’ve been turned up tenfold had it done so. And while there were parts I hated, like the head-scratching and almost indiscernible ending or some of the poorly rendered CGI, I left the film amused. This is an easy experience, as you could probably glean from my rather unsophisticated review, and achieves what is sets out to accomplish. Chances are it’ll leave you the moment the theater lights come up, but that doesn’t make it any less satisfying. Horror movies are hard to do right, and Poltergeist succeeds at being the campy, fun, sparingly scary – albeit inferior – little brother to the starling original. It’s vacuous entertainment, but in an arid summer season thus far, the silly amusement is a welcome addition.
“They already know what scares you.”
Rating: 3 out of 5