Poltergeist 2015, and the Remake Train Just Keeps on Rolling

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Warning: Spoilers Below

Sometimes I like to review something right after I see it, and other times, I need to sit and stew for a while to really articulate how a film either pleasantly surprised or enraged me. I decided to try the latter this time to see if I still loathed this movie as much as when I left the theatre.

A week or so later:

…Yep, I still hate it. And after what I’ve seen, I’m honestly surprised by how much I hate this movie.

 

There’s no rule in the book that remakes have to be utter garbage. I liked Cinderella 2015, which was enough of its own thing while still drawing ideas and making references to both the original fairytale and the 1950’s animated classic. It probably still didn’t “need to exist”, but for what it was, it was surprisingly good.

But so frequently these days, the words “remake”, “reboot”, and even “sequel” are practically synonymous with “cheap”, “gimmick”, and “pointless” in the collective public consciousness, and that is far from undeserved.

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If Hollywood is looking to remake or reboot a movie, series, or what-have-you, here would be my personal guide and criteria for the necessity of it:

  1. Is/Was it popular?
  2. Is there anything you feel you can add to it creatively, for old and new audiences?

(Note: If you answered “yes” to number 1 but not to number 2, “do not remake” is the default answer. Just making money is not a good enough reason if you want to even pretend to be a serious and respectable artist or entertainer.)

3.  Did it flop the first time (and therefore have a lot of potential once fixed)?

If you answered “no” to both numbers 2 and 3, then you should just re-release the original in theaters again and you’d probably save and make more money that way.  Seeing movies on the big screen is a totally awesome experience, after all.

If you answered “yes” to either of those two questions, then you can start to think about doing a remake. You still have a long way to go from there.

Clearly, the makers of Poltergeist 2015 answered “yes” to number 1 above and nothing else.

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I’ll get the good stuff out-of-the-way first: Sam Rockwell was decent as the father of the family, although I found him a bit more sour than funny when he was making small talk with the realtor towards the beginning of the film. The scene where he addresses the occult specialist Carrigan, going from angry to dressed down but still a bit stubborn to broken down and desperate for his daughter’s return, was very well done, and most of the rest of the time, Rockwell has a lot of charisma. He even has decent chemistry with his wife, played by Rosemarie DeWitt.

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The son played by Kyle Catlett, while extremely annoying because of his constant scaredy-cat nature, had a well established character that built up from the beginning and payed off with his “manning up” in the end.

I do find it a questionable choice, however, that the boy who was terrified of his own shadow for most of the movie ended up being completely in the right. They imply that it was his mother’s fear after losing him in a crowded place that rubbed off on him, but still; the message is very confused.

The rest of the film was boring, predictable, and at worst, enraging.

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Every scare is a jumpscare, accompanied by the same loud music you get in every modern horror film. You can see exactly when they are coming, and it is extremely irritating when they use it more than once or twice. Especially if you mistakenly think back to the original 1982 film and its suspense, build-up, and even some elements of wonder before the s@#% really hit the fan.

The overabundance of technology here is distracting, sometimes hilariously so. I get the sense that the “writers” were trying to make this film unique or make some kind of point with it, but it just serves to date the film before it’s even left theaters. Why or how the family can afford a drone when neither of the parents are working and just bought a house, I’ll never know. Nor will I know how it is high-tech enough to be flown into the Otherworld to find Madison.

Yes, the Otherworld. Call me weird or old-fashioned, but I really liked how the original movie didn’t show us what it was like on the other side. The sequel did, but I prefer to think of Poltergeist as a stand alone, rather than part of a series. The first sequel was okay, but we’re not here to talk about that.

All that the 1982 film showed us of the other side was flashing lights concealing what lay beyond the closet doors, which I am perfectly fine with. It left the place up to your imagination, which made the scene all the more suspenseful, interesting, and powerful, in my opinion. It played off of the fear of what you can’t see, the unknown, which a lot of people can relate to.

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This movie prefers to show us the other side, which is simply a warped version of the house itself. I called it the Otherworld because it looks like something out of the later games in the Silent Hill series; grim, dirty, dark, with flailing, grabby corpses everywhere (I couldn’t get a screenshot of it, so see the above Silent Hill monster and image a room full of those conjoined). I found it more silly than scary, but hey, they tried…I think.

All of the effects, including the directly above mentioned, are such obvious CGI that it’s depressing. None of it looks like it’s really happening, which is a shame because if we did believe it was there, it would look and feel pretty cool. The scene where the boy is grabbed by the tree branch and then dragged through various areas of the house is unintentionally hilarious because of this, and because the director chose to linger on it in the first place. The tree doesn’t try to hurt him or eat him, but rather waves him around in the air for a bit before dropping him when the parents get home. 

The most fear you’ll get out of this movie is probably picturing yourself in one of these situations. It has no other substance whatsoever, not even really from the point of view of fearing for the family.

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Also, I can’t believe they cut out the Beast! He was one of the coolest things in the original; particularly his spectral designs!

The writers apparently didn’t check the definition of poltergeist or even the first movie where Dr. Lesh (Beatrice Straight) says that it’s a specific individual causing the more malevolent disturbances. In this film, all of the ghosts are evil, or at least royally pissed, from start to finish, and there are no distinguished personalities among any of them.

Things that were included just so they could call this film Poltergeist:

  • The Goddamn Clown Doll (There are actually multiple in this film, and they are just as intentionally scary and poorly explained as the doll from the original Poltergeist. Seriously, why did Robbie and Carol Anne have that thing?)

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  • The Old Scary Tree
  • Talking to Ghosties Through the TV (In the original film, that was how they first entered the house fully. In this remake, they seem like they’re already there, which made the whole T.V. scene kind of superfluous)

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  • “They’re here.” (Said almost as though Madison didn’t really care at all)
  • The Closet to Another Dimension (And the kidnapping into said dimension. The ghosts slowly roll her doll into the closet. Madison follows casually, then gets grabbed by ghost hands and dragged further into the closet)

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  • Built on a Former Cemetery
  • Paranormal Team Comes to Investigate (There is one arrogant jerk on board, who is even worse than his original film counterpart)
  • Poltergeist Shenanigans

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  • Gross Out Moment (Sam Rockwell takes a drink and pukes earthworms)
  • Paranormal Team Brings in More Help (In the form of Mr. Irish McGee. At the very least, I’m thankful he wasn’t a hoax or was suspected of being one for very long)

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  • Portal Way-Out on the Living Room Ceiling
  • Family Member Goes into the Closet to Save Girl ( The son does it in this one. He takes responsibility for his sister’s disappearance because he shouldn’t have left her alone pre-kidnapping and goes in after her while the adults argue)
  • Ectoplasmic Goo Upon Exit
  • “This house is clean.” (played almost for laughs throughout the film. Neither film really explains why the medium can’t tell that the house is still dirty until it’s far too later, but whatever)
  • Lol, JK, the House is Not Actually Clean

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  • Escape While the House is Destroyed
  • Moved the Headstones, Not the Bodies (But the new film took all of the twist and poignancy out of that reveal by joking about it in the first half of the movie, only to have the family accept it, unusually calmly, as an explanation later on)

Things that were altered significantly, to the new film’s detriment:

  • The Little Girl’s Acting (She is so flat and unresponsive at times. Unless she’s in a trance, she should emote way more than she does. That’s not so much her fault as the director’s, but still. I hate the stereotype of kids acting needlessly creepy and cryptic in horror movies)

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  • Pacing and Character Development (The ghosts start messing with things in pretty big ways right when the family first moves in. There are no really good, slow, and/or quiet moments, and there is barely any transition from small ghostly activities to major disturbances. The characters’ bonds outside of the family aren’t as well-developed or established, and the talks about what happens when people die are extremely short and almost childishly simple, when they make sense at all. Also, I hated the teenage daughter at first)

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  • The Lull Before the Last Attack (There is virtually no time between the “this house is clean” moment and the “lol, jk, the house is not actually clean!” moment. The original movie gives us about 10 minutes of a semi-false sense of security, but in this one, it literally happens not 2 minutes after retrieving the daughter and not two seconds after her saying, “The ghosts aren’t gone, Mommy. I couldn’t help them go to the light, so they’re still here.”
  • The Tone of the Ending (Not to be confused with the post credits scene. While the first film had a slight joke to it, it was somber. You were happy that they got away in one piece, and maybe have even snorted at the joke, but you just know that the family was still reeling from that traumatic experience. In this movie, the ending is such an obvious, out-of-left-field joke that it sucked away any good will I harbored towards the film within milliseconds. If you cared at all about the story or the characters, then the ending pretty much gave you the finger)

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So to sum up, this film is pretty terrible. It falls back on strategically altered scenes from the classic movie, ultimately dooming it to be forced to compete and compare with said classic. It was neither a loving send up, enough of its own thing, nor anywhere good enough as a horror film in general to merit its existence. At best, if you ignore the original, it’s barely passable. It’s a factory-assembled remake with all the love, respect, and commitment to the source material that implies.

And what offends me even more than that is how pointless it was.

Gil Kenan is certainly no Spielberg or Hooper.

3/10

*All pictures, video clips, and other media belong to their respective owners. None of the images or sounds belong to me.

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