It takes an abysmally bad series of events and decisions to take a handful of really good scenes and a pretty good story (1982’s ‘Poltergeist’) and rehash them all into something this awful. While the original Poltergeist had something to say, and was a uniquely creepy film, this movie is boring, annoying, and flat-out dumb, clearly aimed squarely at a tween audience that won’t remember the original. It stands as a new example of how any decent film can and will be bastardized in search of the almighty dollar.
The story is the same as the original, with a few cosmetic changes. The Bowen family are downsizing to a suburban home, which they get at a real bargain price. Soon they find themselves fighting against paranormal forces that have taken their youngest daughter captive. The changes made to the story, such as the family’s financial troubles, are obviously done with the intention of modernizing the plot, but only succeed at making this one far more cookie-cutter than the original. Not to mention insulting to the intelligence.
The first goof is an obvious one: how can a family with significant credit card debt and no income afford to buy a home? Not just any home either – it looks to be in a nice, planned neighborhood (I mean, not counting the whole built on a cemetery thing), doesn’t have any obvious defects, and is very spacious. Still, the teenage daughter and multiple neighbors waste no time criticizing, complaining about how the neighborhood isn’t as “nice” as it could be. Really? The house looks pretty damn nice to me. This snobbishness has no place in this movie, or any movie, especially considering we never see the house they had to leave behind. How elaborate is that one supposed to be? In addition, in spite of how financially strained they are supposed to be, the father still manages to buy a brand-new TV, smartphone, and gadgets for the family. What purpose does that scene serve? So that the malevolent spirits can screw with the technology later. Because you know, you can totally see static on a flatscreen TV… Either way, this is without a doubt the worst depiction of poverty ever committed to the big screen.
The CGI is bad. Almost as bad as the hammy acting by all the adults (overqualified actors all.) Even Sam Rockwell, normally so reliably fun, falls completely flat. The relationship that the parents have with the children is completely unbelievable, and the eldest daughter is such an annoying clichéd brat that after ten minutes in, I was praying for the spirits to suck her into the other dimension for good. Jared Harris plays the ghost hunter, a variation on the much better Zelda Rubinstein character from the original movie. He butchers an Irish accent so badly I could almost see the other actors smirking at him.
All of the characters are uniformly dumb. I refer to Roger Ebert’s “Idiot Law,” which is any movie plot containing problems that could be solved instantly if all the characters weren’t idiots. Got crippling credit card debt? Maybe don’t buy the new smartphone. Find human bones while digging in your yard? Might be wise to do some investigating into the history of the home. By the third act of the movie, everything delves into sheer camp, and I was ever so tempted to just walk out. I might not have been alone. It seems as though everyone, screenwriters included, realized what a stinker this was going to be at that point in the film, and just threw in the proverbial towel.
As for the spirits themselves, they are the most sympathetic part of the movie, even if the explanation for their existence is given in a single, toss-away line in an obnoxious dinner-party scene. There were so many missed opportunities for scary buildups. The scares you find here are of the loud quick jump variety, and while they are effective (in one or two scenes), it’s a cheap way to get an audience reaction. The mythology of the original film, of disgruntled spirits and disturbed burial grounds, is completely gone here, reduced to a few half-hearted lines and reactions.
Ultimately, the worst thing about this movie is the sheer pointlessness of it. Remakes can work, and have, if there is something to add to the original, a different viewpoint or way of telling the story. When a remake just goes through the exact motions of the original, with no intent or artistic purpose beyond moneygrubbing from those who have fond memories of the original film, it leaves a bad taste in the mouth. And that’s what you need to know about 2015’s “Poltergeist.”