Before I begin this, I’d like to first insist that I enjoyed this remake of Poltergeist.
All of the actors do well with what they are given. The direction is interesting, bold and well paced. The writing, at the very least, wasn’t as terrible as it could have been. However, as I’ve been putting my thoughts together over the last few days, I continue to find more and more problems with the film.
We live in an era of remakes and adaptations. Poltergeist is a remake of the Spielberg penned 1982 classic of the same name. Unlike a lot of folks on the internet, I have no problem with remakes and adaptations. If you can figure out a new take on an old story, that’s fantastic. That’s literally what humans have been doing for generations. Not a problem for me what-so ever.
In the original film, you’re thrown into the midst of a suburban summer, introducing us all to the Freeling family, a household of five, living in a housing development that the patriarch, played by Craig T(he Coach). Nelson, is a realtor for. The family is then haunted by hundreds of spirits over the course of the rest of the film; the ghosts of generations of the dead upon which the Freeling’s housing development was wrongfully built upon. There, that’s why there are ghosts.
In the remake, we’re hangin’ with the Bowen’s. Also a family of five, the Bowen’s are forced to move from their family home into a “smaller” home after Eric, played by Sam Rockwell, is laid off from his job at the local John Deere factory. It’s hinted at that the home and it’s neighbors were built on top of a relocated cemetery. There’s even rumors they forgot to move the bodies. There, that’s why there are also ghosts.
This is my first problem. Sadly, unlike some other remakes, this one was basically pointless. You’re telling the same exact story, changing incredibly unimportant details, ignoring the same plot holes, keeping the same character archetypes, all while making those problems more glaring than they were in the original.
Let’s start with the characters. Dad: goofy, affable, loves his family. Mom: tired, hurried, sweet, loves her family. Oldest daughter: teeniest teen in all the land. Middle son: Scared of everything, especially trees. Youngest daughter: giant eyes, creepy voice, adorable, some kind of paranormal wunderkind. Not one bit of difference from the original. Instead of stoners, the parents are borderline alcoholics. The teenage daughter is exactly the same, and exactly as useless, she’s even a vegetarian in both movies. Both of these movies even end in the same exact way, the families fleeing the homes, the homes being destroyed by the angry spirits within.
Here’s the question I found myself asking throughout the whole film: if all this is doing is making me think of the original…why am I not just watching that? I felt dirty, like Spielberg and Tobe Hooper were going to walk in any minute, cheating on their movie with a movie that looks like a grungier version of theirs.
However Poltergeist’s flaws are not solely in how it was adapted for today’s screens, but in it’s tone. Horror, like good science fiction, is highly dependent on the viewer buying into whatever magic or hocus-pocus McGuffin you happen to be jamming into their eye holes this time around.
In the original, Hooper & Co. found a way to make ghosts and hauntings simultaneously horrific and charming through a combination of digital effects and practical make-up work, even stop motion animation for the infamous mirror scene.
The remake is nothing but CGI, and through this process they’re able to be simultaneously more and less creative some how. The ghosts are interesting but not impressive. I don’t think I could recall what one looks like off the top of my head right now if you asked me. There’s no wonder, no imagination, just vaguely undulating darkness.
In the end, I’m starting to think that I only enjoyed this movie because I enjoy the original. I’m not going to say that’s going to be true for everyone. In fact, I expect if you loved the original, most of you will actually hate this movie. It’s interesting, but completely unimportant and forgettable. I give it three shrugs out of five.
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