Poltergeist: Rated “PG-13” (1 hour 33 minutes)
Starring: Sam Rockwell, Jared Harris, Rosemarie DeWitt, Nicholas Braun, Jane Adams
Directed by: GIl Kenan
In 1982, director Tobe Hooper gave us the Steven Spielberg (written and produced) film, Poltergeist, which was intended to be a new age ghost story that was not so much about a deceased person’s spirit that was haunting a location, but more of a specter that was causing all sorts of havoc and disruption to the living. Truthfully we recall not being nearly as impressed by that film as many of our contemporaries back then as we had hoped that it was going to be the first digital-age ghost story (which is what the trailer seemed to promise), only that’s not quite what we wound up getting. We felt then that the film relied too much on gimmicky effects and “gotchas” to be truly scary.
Now, 33 years later we have legendary horror filmmaker Sam Raimi (30 Days of Night, Evil Dead, The Grudge) and director Gil Kenan (Monster House) have attempted to contemporize the classic tale about a family whose suburban home is haunted by evil forces. However, when the terrifying apparitions escalate their attacks (as you know they will), then kidnap and the youngest daughter captive, the family must come together to rescue her before she disappears forever. Zzzzzzzzzz. Oh, so sorry, we started to doze there. Yeah, once again we (mistakenly) had high hopes for this classic tale, only to have those hopes dashed once more. <Sigh>
Honestly, the one bright light in this film is that it isn’t actually a remake as it is a continuation of the original tale. It seems that this new family — The Bowens — have moved into the same complex that the Freelings moved into back in the ‘80s (this from a throwaway line from one of their neighbors). Needless to say, this film essentially follows the storyline of that original Poltergeist film; the family moves in and the youngest daughter, Madison (Kennedi Clements) begins talking to the otherworldly spirits that seem to be inhabiting the back of her closet and the inside of the family’s big-screen TV.
Now, with the help of a local professor of spookology from the local university (Who ya gonna call?) and a TV ghost hunter (Jared Harris) the Bowens must rally, come together, and rescue little Madison from the spirits who (for reasons that are still never fully explained) want to capture her and either pull her to their side, of use her to come over to ours. Unfortunately, the film still relies on the same “gotcha” tricks that the first film gave us and really doesn’t add anything new (save for cell phones and other updated electronics) to the mix, plus it drops the runtime from 120 to 93 minutes; which only serves to get us to the haunting spirits faster, cutting though a mountain of (inevitably slow set-up as we already know the story). So, go if you like this kind of stuff, but ghost stories of this stripe simply don’t frighten us any longer, and re-hashing old, hackneyed plots, does even less for us. Personally, we prefer ours in the form of Zombies on Sunday nights.
Robert J. Sodaro has been reviewing films for some 30 years. During that time, his movie reviews and articles have appeared in numerous print publications, as well as on the web.