Eric & Amy Bowen (Sam Rockwell & Rosemarie DeWitt) are going through some of the most challenging aspects of life. Eric has been made redundant, Amy is trying to get back into writing, they’ve moved house and they are also raising their three children. Upon moving into their new home the kids begin to experience some strange events. The youngest Madison is speaking to people who are not there, and Griffin, her old brother, is hearing and seeing unsettling things and objects keep breaking. One night after the parents attend a meal, the mysterious events in the house escalate from moving objects to horrific manifestations, and the family soon discovers there may be more to this house than they ever knew.
The well of Horror remakes has began to dry up over the past few years, with the occasional release trickling through providing us updated versions of popular films from yesteryear. It’s actually been 33 long years since the first ‘Poltergeist‘ hit cinemas in 1982 and what scares us has changed a lot since that time. As a result, the effectiveness of this updated version of an iconic classic is a mixed bag, opting to go for a thrill ride instead of a chilling one.
In an age where James Wan has perfected the art of making your bowels give in with films like ‘Insidious‘ & ‘The Conjuring‘, there are plenty horrors out there that are looking to give you sleepless nights. The market isn’t flooded with them, but this is the era of the supernatural sub-genre of horror. If your an adult this remake is not one of them. Instead it opts to allow you to have fun instead of recoiling in fear. It’s a very brave choice for a recognisable property such as ‘Poltergeist’ but it ultimately succeeds, most likely to the chagrin of those who enjoyed the original.
As a remake, it does very little to differentiate itself from it’s forebear, we still have menacing clowns, evil trees and a young girl whom restless spirits have taken a fancy too. It retains most of the visually familiar aesthetics and scenes from the original and gives it a new lick of paint. With a 90 minute running time it kicks off with a fairly quick pace, which quickly culminates in a adrenaline dump, mid film climax where Madison wanders into a spirit realm and the rest of the family realise sh*t just got weird. Up to this point the film is reasonably serious and a little creepy, but then the investigators & medium come into it.
In place of the fairly iconic role of Tangina (played memorably by Zelda Rubinstein) we get Carrigan Burke (Jared Harris playing some strange Irish/American exorcist that is shades of Quint from Jaws), a gifted medium who is now a reality TV star, visiting & resolving presumably fake hauntings. As soon as Burke arrives on the scene the tone of the film shifts into a less serious, very slightly comedic gear. This shift in tone takes what little edge the film had and throws it to one side as the final act accelerates into top gear. The change in direction of the film is going to be a divisive one. Those looking for heart attack inducing scares are likely to be disappointed, but those looking for a roller coaster ride through a haunted house will be happy. As a result I’m not going to condemn this change. Fun horror films that don’t rely on limb tearing teenage deaths are an incredibly rare breed, and come the credits this is what the 2015 version of ‘Poltergeist’ is, and I enjoyed all 90 minutes of it.
Visually and narratively this is very similar to the original 1982 film, but it shares more in tone and feeling with Sam Raimi’s 2009 horror ‘Drag Me to Hell‘. No coincidence he served as producer on the film. As much as I had fun watching this, it has a few faults. It uses too much from the original to be overly different, it’s pace is uneven and as mildly intriguing a character Carrigan Burke is, he has no depth. I have a feeling there may be more on the cutting room floor that didn’t make the final cut, especially from the finale.
Leave any lofty frightful expectations at the door of the cinema, ‘Poltergeist’ 2015 is a film that definitely wants to have more fun than its predecessor. Aimed at a younger audience it will most likely go down as a sleepover sensation (if teenagers even still do those things). Though it has clearly stared at the original instead of giving nods & winks, It’s a refreshingly easy to watch, thrills over chills trip through a theme park like haunted house.