Thursday, June 11, 2015

Poltergeist (2015)

*** out of ****

Gil Kenan's (Monster House) 2015 remake of Poltergeist is almost as good as the original - a film I've always found to be overrated - so I guess that's not a big compliment.

The original movie made some kind of undefined cultural commentary about the excess of suburban life during the dawn of yuppie culture, but the artistic confusion between its director Tobe Hooper and producer Steven Spielberg resulted in a movie that succeeded in entertaining but had little to say beyond its broad messages about materialism and television infecting the modern American family. However, the movie was filled with product placement and one too many needless special effects scenes.

Naturally, the remake doesn't have any new filmmaking techniques with which to impress us, but Kenan understands how to achieve the same tone the original movie had. Sam Rockwell and Rosemarie DeWitt are well cast as the imperfect parents in a family, haunted by a presence in their suburban home. And Jared Harris plays a ghost-hunting reality TV star signifying the filmmaker's wise unwillingness to find a Zelda Rubinstein surrogate.

The remake has some lame touches, such as a whiney smartphone-fixated teenage daughter, which may be a stereotype inspired by reality, but not one worth re-enforcing through cinema. Marc Streitenfeld's creepy music is no match for Jerry Goldsmith's, but whose is? There's also a stupid scene, late in the film, involving a toy drone being used against the spirits, begging us to wonder why they don't start controlling it as they have every other piece of home electronic equipment earlier in the film.

Writer David Lindsay-Abaire (whose suburban drama Rabbit Hole seemed like the right kind of experience for this project) seems to miss out on the original films emphasis that the then-new subdivision homes worked as an unlikely place for a haunting. In this movie the suburbs look old and decayed, coming off as haunted to begin with. As silly as this sounds, I would have found it very interesting if the family were haunted by ghosts from the early eighties.

The movie still has enough intrigue and genuine scares for me to recommend it for anyone who doesn't feel like watching a movie made in 1982.

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