Starring: Sam Rockwell, Rosemarie DeWitt, Kyle Catlett, Saxon Sharbino, Kennedi Clements, Jane Adams, Jared Harris, Nicholas Braun, Susan Heyward
Rated PG-13 for Intense Frightening Sequences, Brief Suggestive Material and Some Language
Tobe Hooper's 1982 shocker "Poltergeist" was not a great movie, but it was at least an entertaining one. Nevertheless, it managed to strike a chord with its audience and its reputation has died down little over the past thirty-odd years. This remake was slapped together for the same reasons that horror sequels are made: to cash in on a "brand name" with next to no effort. And that lack of effort could barely be more painfully obvious than in this lame remake.
Eric (Rockwell) and Amy (DeWitt) Bowen are moving to a new house with their three kids: Kendra (Sharbino), Griffin (Catlett), and Madison (Clements). It doesn't take long for the kids to recognize that there's something strange going on in this new place, but Eric and Amy are oblivious or in denial. Then Madison gets sucked in the closet, and a pair of paranormal investigators (Harris and Adams) come to help.
There's very little in this movie that isn't present simply because it's obligatory. Everything that happens in this movie happens not because of character interaction or good storytelling, but because its what happened in the original. And this time around, it feels like a shallow retread. Everything feels rushed, the acting is lousy and director Gil Kenan appears to be influenced by the modern-day Michael Bay by hurtling everything he can at us as fast as he can. It even tells us the big twist before the movie even gets going! What were they thinking? To be fair, they replace it with another, but it's obligatory, lacks any sort of emotional component, and isn't even remotely credible. At least Tobe Hooper (although how much of the film ended up being directed by Steven Spielberg himself is subject for debate) understood the importance of build-up, which has totally escaped Kenan. This is all climax. Bad climax.
I like Sam Rockwell. He's been working his way up the ladder for decades, and he continues to mature. It wasn't until "Galaxy Quest" that he started making a name for himself in character parts, but it was two years ago that he gave his best performance in "The Way Way Back," a movie I strongly advise seeing instead of this one. Likewise, Rosemarie DeWitt has been building a career, although her career received a big boost later when she appeared opposite Anne Hathaway as the title (but not central) character in "Rachel Getting Married." She has an appealing presence and ability, even in lame movies like "The Watch." The two make a cute couple, and the scenes detailing their marriage ring true. Unfortunately, their kids aren't up to the challenge of being likable and sympathetic. Kyle Catlett is irritating, Saxon Sharbino, with one exception, the clichéd self-absorbed tween girl, and Kennedi Clements is far too cute to be credible. Clements has the most important role in the film, and she is no match for Heather O'Rourke (instead of O'Rourke's infamous utterance of "They're here," Clements says it simply. It would have been better to just imitate it.). Jared Harris and a decidedly non-strange Jane Adams are, like their co-stars, slumming it for a paycheck. But they are no match for Beatrice Straight and especially Zelda Rubenstein.
"Poltergeist" is designed for one thing in mind: to suck in money from people who are attracted to "names" they know. It's cynical marketing at its worst. The only thing worth noting about this movie is that the AMC warning to turn your phone off has changed. It takes up about 1% of the running time but believe me, it's a lot more entertaining than the movie.