In this reboot of the 1982 classic, the Bowen family headed by Eric Bowen, Sam Rockwell, and his wife, Amy, Rosemarie Dewitt, are moving their family into a fixer-upper home. They have three children, Kendra, Saxon Sharbino, Griffin, Kyle Catlett and Maddy, Kennedi Clements. However, soon after they move in, things start to move around of their own volition, there is a set of creepy clowns in a strange cubby hole inside the attic room where Griffin’s room is, and the little one, Maddy is talking her closet door and a fuzzy pictured television.
The film follows the same storyline as its predecessor with few surprises. As with the first one, we learn that the housing development is built on a cemetery (which they were told moved before the homes were built, but in fact was not). In addition there is the assortment of jump scares, lights going on and off, a banister which shocks anyone who touches it, and closets which are portals to doorways, that appear and then disappear.
The pacing of this film is fast, so there are no wasted moments, however, it completely lacks in ingenuity, character development and realism. While this is a horror film, we never get any sense as to who these people are beyond the cliché of the smart but bratty older daughter, the squeamish middle child who is afraid of everything (yet plays extremely violent scary video games on his Nintendo) and the highly intuitive younger child who is the conduit for the nasty spirits they will contend with.
All this being said, there are glaring problems with this story; the parents we are told move into this house because they can afford little else, yet given their financial situation they should not even be able to buy the house they do; the father has not worked in years, and the mother does not work because she is staying home to write a book. What are they living on love? When Eric goes to get supplies at the local store his credit cards are maxed out, and he has to try many different ones till one finally goes through.
Even if you accept that neither of them is working, unless they have a huge savings account from which to draw, which is highly unlikely, and even if you believe that they are buying the house because it is in foreclosure, you still have to pay something. Therefore, the entire premise of the film, is not only weak, it is unbelievable. Amy offers to go back to work but Eric says that he does not want her to give up on her dream. If this is so, then why do we never even see her write anything?
This brings us to the next issue. The moment they move in, they force Griffin, who is riddled with fear, to live in the attic. They talk about how he is not like other kids and that he is afraid of everything, so given that, why would they put him in a room which will do nothing but, add to his anxieties? Is this parenting by forcing your already phobic kid into facing his fears? Griffin is so overwrought, that they in fact do not believe him when he says that something is wrong.
Of course by the time professional help comes, things have significantly deteriorated and this is where we go from something which could be done with subtlety to overt, obvious, and silly. It must be said that the special effects in this reboot are pretty well done. CGI really helps with making things look real, and so when cars fly, or skeletons rise out of the pavement, it looks not only scary but real. The problem is, it is nothing new, and we as an audience are not surprised.
That sad part is we want to be surprised. This does not mean endless jump scares, or arms being sliced off, but using craft, allusion and inventiveness. This is also disappointing, because there were some nuanced performances here especially by Kennedi Catlett as Maddy. She brings a quiet believability to her character that not only lifts the film, but makes it worth watching at least just for her. We want to route for her, not only because she is the youngest one, but because she seems to be able to understand, before everyone else, just what is going on.
This brings us the final flaw with this film. While we know the spirits are upset for having a housing development built on top of them, why are they just now suddenly upset? What about the Bowens caused this? Are their neighbors having similar issues? We never know. The family talks to their neighbors to find out if they have had similar issues, and in fact we never see anyone other than the Bowens in the film.
How can we care, as viewers about people who are given so little depth, a story which is strewn with problems and amorphous angry energy (spirits) when it is so poorly plotted and presented? Films are all about this, presentation, showing the story in terms that are fascinating, intelligent and never, ever cliché. Sadly, this film is a reboot that lacks all of those things.