Since its release in 1982, countless films have borrowed from Poltergeist’s slow-burning scares. Who knew that carefully stacked kitchen furniture could be so frightening? Or television static? In this Sam Raimi produced reboot, the franchise seeks to redress the balance by appropriating imagery from every horror movie between then and now. It’s rare even for a remake to be so entirely bereft of inspiration, from its leaden “family bonding” scenes to the by-the-numbers “ghost in the closet” scares.
The original Poltergeist was concerned with what happens when the comforts of suburbia – such as the aforementioned furniture and TV set – become objects of dread. Director Gil Kenan has obviously taken note: horror movies should Reflect Our Societal Fears, because this time round the family have been hit by the financial crisis. They’ve been forced to move to a house that was built on a cemetery, for Pete’s sake (“It’s not like it was on an ancient tribal burial ground” quips a dinner guest in one of the few wry nods to the original). The new house is creepy. And by creepy I mean it has a secret cupboard in the attic filled with toy clowns. Why? Because it gives them a chance to stick a clown on the film poster. They hang around for one scene before vanishing from the narrative.
While the plot follows the general direction of the original – the family’s kid is sucked into the TV by ghosts – its execution is closer to Raimi’s special effects-heavy 2009 film Drag Me To Hell, minus all of the schlocky charm. Fiery portals and CGI ghouls take precedence over things that creep in the shadows. At one point a mystical man appears who has weirdly specific knowledge about how to deal with this unprecedented event (it involves flying a child’s toy helicopter into another dimension). The whole thing is unforgivably lazy, with a complete dearth of either scares or laughs.
Sam Rockwell and Rosemarie DeWitt do their darndest to make the experience bearable with two solid performances (Rockwell is perpetually bemused, which is the correct response to this movie), but not even Daniel Day Lewis could make this script shine.
There’s lots of turning in the grave in this film, but nothing is turning harder or faster than the original, Steven Spielberg written Poltergeist, God rest its soul.
First published in City A.M.