On the way to the Theater this morning, we made every light between our house and the movie theater. It’s almost three miles on a very busy commercial mainline, and there are at least a dozen intersections with traffic lights. We made every one of them. I thought maybe we should go to Vegas, but then it occurred to me that maybe it was a good omen for the film we were about to see. Nope. Not gonna happen. This remake of Poltergeist is as mundane and unnecessary as you thought it would be. Having the names of Sam Rami and Sam Rockwell associated with the film was enough to take a flyer on it, but it all just lays there.
The story is somewhat the same as the original, but instead of an upwardly mobile yuppie couple buying into the American dream, we have a downsized family making due with leftovers. There is no contentious but friendly next door neighbor in this movie. In fact the only other people not directly related to the story sort of look down on folks living in this neighborhood. The dearth of nearby residents is supposed to be explained by the fact that there are so many foreclosures in the neighborhood. That is the only way this film might compare favorably to the original, it at least has an explanation as to how these events could take place without anyone else in the area being aware.
Other interesting points about the movie, well Rosemarie DeWitt who plays the Mother in this film is married to Ron Livingston who played the Father in “The Conjuring“. He definitely got the better end of that deal. It’s not an improvement but it is an interesting twist, the spiritualist they bring in to help the family, instead of being a diminutive female Rambo with a Kewpie doll voice, we get a grizzled reality TV Ghosthunter who has an Irish brogue and a gruff disposition. My daughter had a good insight on this film. It would have played better if this was a case the TV guy was doing for an episode of his series as opposed to his agreeing to work this case in spite of the fact that the family did not want to be on TV. It would have played off the two genres against each other and left room for more surprises than we finally get with this fairly standard haunted house story.
Like the remake of “Carrie” from two years ago, “Poltergeist” does nothing to hurt the legacy of the other film. If audiences are unwilling to go back three decades to see the original, there might as well be a version that they can get themselves to. It’s just sad to think that people believe the visual effects from then are inferior to the CGI of today. I’d disagree and the incident at the sink in both films would be a good way to make the comparison. The 1982 film was a lot more frightening with the practical make-up effects.
Sam Rockwell is playing a character who is less interesting and less heroic than the oddball salesman of Craig T. Nelson. There is one brief sequence, which has nothing to do with the story, that allows him to use his Rockwellisms and charisma. It is short and unfortunately, there was no dancing involved. The two young actors playing the youngest children in the family were very good. It was maybe a bit more interesting to give the son more to do but it is at the expense of the rest of the characters. The build up in the first film was intriguing with some moments of levity. This version crashes headlong into the action, and there is never a sense of wonder. It is all about fear. In the original, the clown doll sits like a ticking bomb in the scenes set in the son’s bedroom. In this version, it is a ringing alarm from the very first moment it appears. The controversy over Spielberg’s taking over direction from Tobe Hooper continues to today. It is safe to say he had nothing to do with directing this film.