Published May 22, 2015The biggest conundrum facing any remake of an iconic film is how to toe the line between honouring all the favourite parts of the original while also adding enough new material to justify its existence in the first place. To that end, Gil Kenan's Poltergeist may be a slicker and flashier update on Tobe Hooper's 1982 classic, but a glossy modern sheen doesn't prevent it from feeling redundant and rather unnecessary.
The bare bones of the story remain fundamentally unchanged. Eric (Sam Rockwell) and Amy (Rosemarie DeWitt) move with their three kids into a new suburban home. Times are tough — he's recently been laid off and she has vague plans of becoming a writer, so a creaky fixer-upper in a less desirable part of town is the best they can do.
Freaky things start happening to the kids soon after. Madison (Kennedi Clements) is talking to people inside the television, Griffin (Kyle Catlett) finds a baseball rolling on the floor by itself and Kendra (Saxon Sharbino) has a text session with her friend interrupted by skeletons emerging from a hole in the ground to grab her. When Madison finally disappears into the closet, Eric and Amy are willing to accept that they've got a haunting on their hands.
There's some genuinely spooky imagery and more than a few good moments to make you jump, with that predatory tree sitting outside Griffin's window just as much of a nightmare come to life as ever. But it too often appears as if any changes made have been purely cosmetic upgrades, with state-of-the-art TV and phone screens merely representing a new opportunity for otherworldly signals to menacingly cascade across them.
This is Poltergeist 2.0. It's not enough now that Griffin finds a sinister clown in his room; he has to discover a whole box of them. It's probably best to not even mention how a drone is deployed in a pivotal scene.
Rockwell and DeWitt do their best to inject humour early on, before eventually taking a backseat to all of the impressive ghost pyrotechnics. The welcome presences of Jane Adams and Jared Harris sneak some laughs into the margins as a pair of paranormal mediums of some sort who once were an item. Even the children are particularly well cast, with the younger Catlett and Clements finding especially effective notes for their characters.
It's all a lot like hearing a talented band play a cover version of a song without altering the track's arrangement in any major way; you're reminded of why it was great in the first place, but you'd much rather they all put down the sheet music and instead concentrate their efforts on kicking out a new jam.