A family whose suburban home is haunted by evil forces must come together to rescue their youngest daughter after the apparitions take her captive.
May 22, 2015
David Lindsay-Abaire (screenplay), Steven Spielberg
Sam Rockwell as Eric Bowen
Rosemarie DeWitt as Amy Bowen
Jared Harris as Carrigan Burke
Jane Adams as Dr. Brooke Powell
The players have changed, but the story remains the same from the original Poltergeist– with a few slight alterations. And I do mean slight – rendering this remake ultimately pointless.
The Bowen family is down on their luck. Eric (Sam Rockwell) has recently been laid off from his long-term gig with John Deere, and Amy (Rosemarie DeWitt) is a struggling writer and stay-at-home mom. Their three children, Kendra (Saxon Sharbino), Griffin (Kyle Catlett) and Maddy (Kennedi Clements) aren’t too jazzed to make this move to a lesser neighborhood, a lesser house and a lesser life. But they are a unit and so they stick together. Immediately upon arriving at their new home, strange things start to happen. Maddy, the youngest child, is kidnapped by angry ghosts and we find out that the former cemetery on their property was moved – taking only the headstones and not the dearly departed corpses. Aside from the fact that this family is new to the neighborhood and the original’s Freeling family helped build their community from the ground up – the set-up (and indeed the story) is not much different.
Directed by Monster House’s Gil Kenan, produced by Sam Raimi and written by Pulitzer Prize winner David Lindsay-Abaire (Rabbit Hole), the picture’s definitely got some heavy hitters behind the camera and God help us – an air of promise and hope surrounding every trailer/poster and advertisement on the side of the bus.
My immediate problem with this remake, is that it feels rushed. The original clocks in at 115 minutes, while this new version is a mere 93 minutes. I realize that attention spans have shrunk since the original was released over 30 years ago, but in that shrinkage, we’ve lost characterization, mood, a believable build and most of all, quality. Certainly, not all “long” films are treasures, but in this case, these 20+ extra minutes are invaluable. We don’t get the same deeply-trenched love with the Bowens, as we did with the Freelings.
It’s not that I didn’t believe this new family, I just didn’t really like them. They were typical, underdrawn and underwhelming.
That’s not to say that the performances were lacking. They’re all pros and Rockwell gets some nice emotional moments which rang true. But honestly, there’s no comparing Rosemarie DeWitt to JoBeth Williams. DeWitt wasn’t bad, but she never reached the fever-pitch of Williams in the 1982 version. The problem here is that while the original cast of characters were practically manic in their grief and fear, the character’s reactions in this remake were far too subdued to properly suit such a dire situation.
Supporting players, Jane Adams as Dr. Powell and Jared Harris as Carrigan Burke frankly didn’t have much to do. I harken back to Beatrice Straight and Zelda Rubinstein in the Adams and Harris-type roles respectively. Dr. Lesch and Tangina were interesting characters themselves. Even if removed from the family, I believe they would have been fascinating people to watch. Dr. Powell and Carrigan Burke – not so much.
The “boo” moments are effective and frequent. And yes, the clown shows up and is pretty damn frightening. But overall, there’s no sense of dread and danger which dripped from the original’s every angle, line of dialogue and music cue.
And speaking of music – the score by Marc Streitenfeld was nothing to shout about. It never brought attention to itself – which is, admittedly, usually a plus. But when you’re up against the legendary Jerry Goldsmith from the get-go, you simply can’t win.
Another problem was the lack of focus. The original was clearly Diane’s story. She was our heroine and the film was told from her perspective – that of a determined but terrified mother. The semi-focus here is more on the young son, Griffin. This switch didn’t hold the same fascination for me.
I also found it interesting that the visual effects, while well done – still couldn’t hold a candle to the original work done by the amazing Industrial Light & Magic. 30 years later, their stuff still sells and still scares. All of this digital nonsense in this current version (specifically the reveal of the “the other side”) just didn’t do much for me. It’s the subtlety of the original (just like this remake, they screwed it all up with the original’s sequel, Poltergeist II: The Other Side – by showing us too much) which is praise-worthy. Is it that current audiences need everything spelled out? Perhaps. I prefer the less-is-more idea. Leave something to my imagination.
Okay. I get it. It may be cheeky to continually compare this film to the original. It should be able to stand on its own. And it does (I’m giving it an “average” score, so it’s not the kiss of death) but it’s a rickety position. With everything (including several pieces of dialogue taken directly from the original) so easily matched up to events in the original, there is no way to escape the source material.
The bottom line, while nicely produced and acted (and I think the filmmaker’s hearts were in the right place), there was simply no magic. You’re better off taking a detour to Cuesta Verde and enjoying the classic goodness of that bygone era.
My guess is that the younger crowd will find this to be a good time (it’s faster-paced, shorter and flashier), while the more seasoned film-goer – those who know and adore the original (like me) – will basically find no reason for the film’s existence. The original has that all-important slow (but intriguing) build. By the time we get to the scary goodies in the original, you’re in love with the family. The heart-felt sympathies and fear we have for the Freeling’s safety is tangible and true. The Bowens cannot recapture these feelings to the same degree.
I wouldn’t place this in the Gus Van Sant Psycho remake – pointless category. Despite the fact that it’s not a total fail, it’s not too far off from such a distinction.