Another day, another horror remake. Surely there can’t be many more classic horror films to remake? Well, I can think of two big ones that haven’t faced the trauma of a remake: The Exorcist and Don’t Look Now. But I can’t imagine it will be long before we see them remade. Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, Psycho, Halloween, The Evil Dead…all terrible to below-average horror remakes. The true horror is simply watching them and seeing a classic being massacred like the typical teenager in a horror film. The general rule is more gore, more CGI and more ‘backstory.’ It not only lessens the scares and the terror but also demeans the original. The remake of Poltergeist, unfortunately, is no different…
The Bowens, tormented by financial debt, relocate to a ‘poorer’ neighbourhood (we are told one or two times that it is a bad neighbourhood, but see no evidence of it…). The story proceeds as the original did. Paranormal activity slowly develops until reaching a peak on night, where the youngest daughter, Maddy, is taken by the ghosts/spirits/unhappy afterlife. The family bring in paranormal investigators to help them retrieve their daughter from the spiritual world (as an aside, who thought of ‘Maddy’ as a name for a little girl who goes missing? I know they are spelt differently, but it’s not hard to hear ‘Maddie’ and hear of ‘Maddy.’ And Maddy disappears whilst her parents are at a dinner party…insensitive or what?)
Rather than the original Poltergeist, where the family are settled in the house before the spookiness occurs, this beginning transforms the remake into just another ‘moving into a haunted house’ story. The point of the original was that the comfortable family life was destroyed by the haunting. However, in the remake the family are already dysfunctional. Eric (Sam Rockwell), the dad, has just lost his job. The mother, Amy, is a struggling novelist. The son, Griffin, is scarred by Amy losing him in a mall. The eldest daughter is disconnected from reality, constantly on her mobile. It’s this kind of added detail that clogs the story up and never helps it along. The most well-drawn character is Griffin’s. He has an actual story arc. The others just meander along, waiting to be helped by paranormal investigators. The investigators are as bland as they come; the cynic, the mature one, and the teenage girl. They spout boring nonsensical exposition that sounds as boring as it must have read in the script.
“This home is not clean”
There are few differences in the story to make the remake worthwhile. It’s Griffin, rather than the mother, who saves the youngest daughter from the ‘other world.’ We actually see the ‘other world,’ (courtesy of a camera mounted on a drone!) a sight which was denied us in the original. And for good reason. The corpses are some of the worst CGI I’ve seen for a long time. In fact, they looked no better than the graphics in the zombie game that Griffin was playing on at the start. I’d prefer stuff like that be left to the imagination, rather than animated in the worst possible manner. That scene in particular took me out of the movie. It seemed like a way to extend the film’s relatively short duration.
Scares are thin on the ground. A few jump scares here and there do not a good film make. In the original, it was the slow destruction of the nuclear family where the horror lay. In the remake, the family are already nearing financial destruction (especially after Eric maxes out his credit card buying his family expensive presents). Both films start out with a close up on a screen, slowly zooming out to reveal an image on the TV screen. In the original, we hear ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ and see images of American iconic sights. In the remake, we zoom out to see a zombie game on a tablet. The original’s opening is the calm before the storm, warming a patriot’s heart. The horror is already there in the remake, diluting the proceeding ‘horror.’
Without the original’s clear message of the evil of technology, the remake descends into a typical and banal haunted house. The spirits may utilise technology to create spooky occurrences, but the technology of a drone is used to locate Maddy in the ‘other world.’ The only saving grace of the whole film is the humour. Sam Rockwell is always charismatic, and he is the origin of many of the one-liners. But, of course, as the story progresses, the humour dissipates, and the entertainment drops. With little horror, the film falls flat on its face.
VERDICT: 3/10. A terrible film, let alone a terrible remake. It loses the horror of the original in favour of poor CGI and below average characterization. Avoid!