Poltergeist review

They’re here. Again…

“If you really wanna make some money quick, a poltergeist abduction isn’t a bad idea…” So says paranormal investigator Boyd (Nicholas Braun) halfway into Gil Keenan’s slick update of the 1982 Steven Spielberg/Tobe Hooper spook film. The executives at Ghost House Pictures (Evil Dead, The Possession, Boogeyman), Sam Raimi’s underperforming horror outlet, clearly feel the same.

The original Poltergeist is more fondly remembered gateway flick than genre classic, but it displayed a singular mix of Hooperian peril and Spielbergian charm. So why bother remaking it? The studio claims it’s to “update an iconic brand”, words that are way more chilling than anything in the movie.

You know the story: nice family move into not-nice house, although if parents Eric (Sam Rockwell) and Amy (Rosemarie DeWitt) had seen Insidious, they’d know giving their children surnames for first names was a bad idea. Thus we meet stage-school cutie Madison (Kennedi Clements – in the Heather O’Rourke role), worrisome mini-Jessie Eisenberg Griffin (Kyle Catlett) and sulky teen Kendra (Saxon Sharbino).

It’s not long before buying a house full of creaky attic bedrooms and inexplicably locked cupboards proves a predictably poor call. Although the family dynamic is well sketched by scripter David Lindsay-Abaire (a Pulitzer Prize winner, no less), Keenan is so, ahem, eager to skip to the good bit, the film quickly becomes a tick-list of 3D CG gotchas: the tree, the TV, the clowns plural.

“Why would someone leave a box of clowns…” puzzles Griffin, the film’s second stupidest line after a groan-inducing comment about “an ancient tribal graveyard”.

Rockwell, as ever, is twitchily brilliant, whether cracking jokes (“Yeah, well, we got too many kids”) or just cracking up – the scene where he bursts into tears at the fate of his daughter, alone in the ether, feels joltingly real. And just when it seems like Keenan’s given up the ghost, comes a finale set amid freaky, flailing spirits that’s so imaginatively staged it lifts the entire film (and demands to be seen in 3D).

It still wouldn’t scare even the nerviest of 15-year-olds, but then nobody seems clear who Poltergeist Mark II is aimed at. Too slight for adults, too silly for teens, too niche for the suits and too naff for the fans, it’s trapped in the kind of limbo you need more than an exorcist and a length of rope to escape from.

The Verdict


3 out of 5


Very tame, but saved from the remake scrapheap by Sam Rockwell’s surprisingly touching performance and a final reel that – briefly – takes the material somewhere new.

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