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"POLTERGEIST"
(2015) (Sam Rockwell, Rosemarie DeWitt) (PG-13)


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QUICK TAKE:
Horror: A family must contend with supernatural activity in their new home, including the abduction of their youngest child.
PLOT:
Due to the recent recession, Eric (SAM ROCKWELL) and Amy Bowen (ROSEMARIE DeWITT) have needed to downsize their home and thus have moved with their three kids into a house in a town near Illinois State University where Amy attended college. Teenager Kendra (SAXON SHARBINO) is less than pleased with the move, especially since it means her only contact with her old friends is through the Internet. Her younger brother, Griffin (KYLE CATLETT), likewise isn't happy about the new place, but that's due to him being a scaredy-cat and having his new bedroom up in the attic where he has a view of the "menacing" tree out the skylight. His younger sister, Maddy (KENNEDI CLEMENTS), however, seems to like their new home, especially due to her new "friends" that reside in her closet.

But then things start going bump in the night -- and then some -- followed by Kendra and Griffin suffering supernatural attacks and Maddy disappearing completely, except for her voice that emanates from the TV. Shocked by what's occurred and not knowing what, if anything, they can do, Eric and Amy turn to Dr. Claire Powell (JANE ADAMS), head of the parapsychology department at Amy's alma mater. Along with her assistants, Boyd (NICOLAS BRAUN) and Sophie (SUSAN HEYWARD), and their high tech gear, Claire hopes to find out what happened to Maddy.

When she realizes they're in over their head, she calls in Carrigan Burke (JARED HARRIS), a medium and star of a ghost-hunting reality TV show, "House Cleaners." Realizing that Maddy is stuck in a realm between the living and the dead, and that the souls and ghouls in there want to use her to get out, Burke leads the charge in coming up with a plan to rescue the six-year-old before it's too late.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
As a general rule of thumb, I'm usually against the notion of remaking or (as the kids and industry folk call it nowadays) rebooting old films, especially if the original picture is at or near the status of being a classic of its particular genre. My opposition stems from such copies being little more than cash grab opportunities -- hoping to make bucks based on name recognition, fond memories of and good will toward the earlier material -- not to mention the obvious slap to the face of actually trying to be creative and deliver something original or unique.

Of course, sometimes lightning can strike twice as occurred with 1978's terrific "Heaven Can Wait" (an update of the 1943 film "Here Comes Mr. Jordan") although the third, more loose attempt, Chris Rock's "Down to Earth" from 2001 proved too many trips to the well can bleed it dry. Others, such as the two remakes of "King Kong" used new technology to tell the great ape tale to varying degrees of success, while Gus Van Sant's shot-for-shot remake of "Psycho" was a useless exercise in unnecessary homage.

Thus, when I heard the powers that be were remaking "Poltergeist," I wasn't particularly happy. After all, while it might not be one of the best horror films ever made -- along the lines of "The Exorcist" or "The Shining" -- the 1982 movie was an effective piece of scary entertainment filled with some terrific frights (Remember the scenes with the creepy clown? The swimming pool filled with pop-up corpses?), good comedic relief, solid performances from both the adults and kids and decent (for the time) special effects.

It also had Steven Spielberg's fingerprints all over it. Beyond having penned the story and produced the flick, rumor had it they he did most of the actual direction rather than the credited Tobe Hooper (of "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" fame -- the original, not the remake). Throw in the so-called "Poltergeist Curse" -- stemming from the unexpected deaths of two of the child stars, and the film has achieved a balanced reputation as part classic, part cult favorite in telling its tale of suburban horror.

For this newly remade version, director Gil Kenan (the computer-animated "Monster House," "City of Ember") and screenwriter David Lindsay-Abaire ("Oz the Great and Powerful," "Rise of the Guardians") keep fairly close to Spielberg's original story, albeit with name and situation changes, along with the updating of technology that's occurred in the intervening 33 years (social media and such, and do any channels go off the air anymore and just show TV "snow" after playing the national anthem as opened the original pic?).

The result is part homage (the clown, or his cousin is back, as is the menacing tree and so on) and part opportunist laziness (of not really doing enough new with the old material to warrant the reboot). Like before, the film follows a family of five -- Sam Rockwell and Rosemarie DeWitt as the parents, Saxon Sharbino, Kyle Catlett and Kennedi Clements as the kids in descending order -- in their suburban home where things start going bump in the night. Before long, and like her predecessor, the young girl ends up announcing "They're here..." and then is whisked away into some supernatural realm. A team of paranormal investigators (lead by Jane Adams, accompanied by Nicolas Braun and Susan Heyward) shows up to help, and when they realize they're in over their heads, they summon a renowned medium to deal with the spooks.

Rather than Zelda Rubinstein, however, this time we get Jared Harris who plays a flamboyant TV "ghostbuster" who, like his predecessor, arrives in the third act to help save the day. He's okay in the part (and probably could have been better given some time and deeper material), but he simply can't stand up, so to speak, to his diminutive predecessor. Overall, there are some decent scares and jolts to be had, and while the collected performers are okay (save for the usually good and nearly always reliable Rockwell who appears as if he doesn't want to be here and doesn't truly feel like he misses his supernaturally abducted daughter), they're no match for the originals, especially regarding those playing the family members who really nailed the essence of such people in the early '80s.

And while tech inventions that sprung up between the original and now are decently used in the story (including the fun thought of flying a drone into the otherworldly realm to have a look around), so many other plot elements are resurrected from the first pic (some nearly verbatim, others tweaked and rearranged) that you can't help but be reminded how good that decades old movie was, and still is. As a result, this feels a bit like warmed up leftovers poured into a new container in hopes of being an equally delicious horror flick.

Those who never saw the original might think this is awesome, but for those of us who found the '82 pic as a welcome return to scares of old and a respite from the barrage of boogeyman slasher films that preceded it by a few years, this is much ado about nothing that needed to be rebooted in the first place. This version of "Poltergeist" rates as a 4 out of 10.




Reviewed May 21, 2015 / Posted May 22, 2015


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