The original POLTERGEIST was said to have a curse attached to it. Perhaps because the producers opted to use real skeletons rather than models because they were cheaper. Perhaps because taunting the supernatural might tick off the wrong non-corporal entity. Aside from the deaths associated with members of the original cast and crew, certainly the sequels had the curse peculiar to sequels, which is to say, the law of diminishing returns. And so we come to the remake, a particularly pedestrian effort with few genuine scares and a great deal of ho-hum about it. The curse at work again? It is not for me to say.
There have been a few changes. In the original, it was a blended family, financially comfortable, moving into a spanking new subdivision. In 2015, the family is dealing with the paterfamilias Sam Rockwell being laid off, and, for reasons not adequately explained, buying a new house in which to move loving wife Rosemary DeWitt, sulky teenage daughter Saxon Sharbino, and sensitive middle child Kyle Catlett into it, along with cute-as-a-button baby of the family, here called Maddie (Kennedi Clements), not Carol Anne. Of course it’s not a brand new one, but rather an older home in a neighborhood of foreclosures. There’s also a sinister weeping willow tree (shades of the Whomping Willow of Harry Potter fame), and equally sinister power lines, the which are referred to often, but don’t actually figure into the story, at least not in a coherent way. Our medium isn’t the iconic Tangine,or even a facsimile thereof, it’s Jared Harris, who bickers with paranormal investigator Jane Adams (shades of THE CONJURING). One thing that hasn’t changed, though, is the cute little girl, talking to the spirits before they are made manifest to the adults, and that pesky closet in her bedroom that is a portal to another dimension.
There are special effects aplenty here, but though they are state-of-the-art, they don’t have the same emotional
punch as those in the original. In fact most of them are reproductions of the original. It’s actually the smaller moments, so very few and far between, that raise a goosebump or two. Horror, even in a tale that is familiar needs a few components to work. There should be, at the very least, elements that speak to our primal fears, such that even when seeing an effect for the umpteenth time, that frisson of unease from the deepest parts of our psyche are disturbed. That doesn’t happen here, save for a stick that plays fetch by itself, a near miss with a power drill, and the attack of the killer clown dolls. That last, though, is really much more about the inherent creepiness of clowns rather than any nifty writing or directing. The flashing lights, static-happy television, and bony hands reaching up with evil intent from puddle of goo are more interesting than creepy, and any unease results from the idea of so much goo oozing over a nice clean floor.
POLTERGEIST is a sad waste of Rockwell and DeWitt, who have a groovy kind of chemistry in a film that otherwise lacks any. It hums along without any visible energy, reminding us at every turn how pale a reflection it is of the original.