Maybe you haven’t seen the 1982 original version of Poltergeist.
Or maybe you have, but you always thought that its languid pacing did far too much to build up the grand finale, that it was atmospheric and utilized special effects far too modestly and then only for the strict advancement of the plot, and that its story structure made it far too frightening and exhilarating.
And you probably also thought that it just wasn’t that much of a comedy.
Well, there’s good news for you all. The 2015 remake of the classic horror is now on screen and wastes no time in jumping right into the action. The Bowen family moves into a new house but it’s not brand new, y’know? Whoever lived there before left behind their collection of clown dolls and somehow didn’t fall victim to a graveyard full of malevolent spirits. Practically as soon as they step in the door, poor Madison (Kennedi Clements), the youngest daughter of the clan, starts talking to the unseen as objects move by themselves.
Of course, it all gets worse by the day. There’s a persnickety problem with that creaky tree. Son Griffin (Kyle Catlett) could sense that something was off as soon as he got in, but mom Amy and dad Eric (Rosemarie DeWitt and Sam Rockwell) still set him up on the top floor, practically the attic space, complete with its own skylight, right under that tree.
This movie is more about technology, and not just the snow channel that helps the family talk to Madison after she gets taken to the other side. This is the 2010s after all. Now it’s a plasma TV that is perpetually on the fritz, and we see the handprints of the ghosts reaching out as if channel 42 was some kind of passageway to Purgatory.
Technology! Griffin uses a drone to fly through Madison’s closet portal to the unknown, a dubious plot trick just so we can see the many CG rendered half-decomposed bodies that are populating the abode. Amy stubs her toes on moving boxes because she’s walking around the house staring into the glare of her iPad. And eldest daughter Kendra (Saxon Sharbino) is never without her cellphone, and yes, it goes on the fritz too, like a TV with poor reception from the 1970s. Because that happens.
This truly is suburban hell. The clichĂ©s are everywhere and they’re huge. When the family digs up what is clearly a human vertebra in their front garden, they casually throw it back in and joke about what kind of animal it might have come from.
But what you really wanted from this movie that you didn’t get much of 33 years ago was a laugh track. This is the scary version of Ghostbusters, complete with a reality TV show host named Carrigan Burke (Jared Harris) whose catchphrase gets turned into a popular Twitter hashtag: #ThisHouseIsClean.
He comes covered with scars and turns out to be the ex-husband of Dr. Brooke Powell (Jane Adams), the first paranormal researcher on the scene. Those two still have a lot of unresolved issues, but they flirt and have some of the best dialogue out of this entire 90-minute sitcom.
All in all, this was a better movie than I thought it would be but I really didn’t have high hopes for it. It was borne out of the contemporary need to suck every scare out of zombie culture and our endless fascination with creepy crawlies and ‘things-that-are-right-behind-you-so-don’t-look.’
Poltergeist 2015 basically copied the template of its predecessor, trimmed off a lot of story and character development, inserted things that made no sense, relied on some very basic techniques to elicit scares out of its audience, added superfluous 3D, and then threw in a squirrel.
Yes, a squirrel. That was the best part of this movie. Every other invisible spectre I saw coming from a mile away but not the noisy rodent that goes bump in this dark, stormy night in a comedy club. Instead, go watch the original version and then try to sleep.
Starring Sam Rockwell, Rosemarie DeWitt, Jared Harris, Jane Adams, Saxon Sharbino, Kyle Catlett and Kennedi Clements
Directed by Gil Kenan
Written by David Lindsay-Abaire
Rated 14A for frightening scenes, genre violence and peril
Runtime: 93 minutes
Now playing at Cineplex Odeon North Edmonton and Scotiabank Theatre