I don’t know anyone who loves the original Poltergeist more than myself. I do know one person who says it’s his all-time favorite movie, and I think I would agree that it is probably my all-time favorite scary movie. There’s just something about Steven Spielberg’s… err, Tobe Hooper’s classic that affects me deeply. I may be 34 years old, and have seen it more times than I could possibly count, but it still gives me chills to the point my eyes water every time. So, with that said, how does director Gil Kenan’s (Monster House) remake stand up to the original? Way better than you might think.
The story remains the same, but the names have been changed to protect the innocent. Just kidding. But seriously, that is about all that’s changed here. We meet the Bowen’s: doting father Eric (Sam Rockwell), loving mother Amy (Rosemarie DeWitt), and their three children Kendra (Saxon Sharbino), Griffin (Kyle Catlett), and — in the Carol Anne role — Madison (Kennedi Clements). For anyone who doesn’t know the story by now, the Bowens have just moved into a new house in Willow Point, much to the chagrin of their kids.
Times have been tough on the Bowens as Eric was recently laid off by John Deere and Amy is hoping to write a book and take care of the kids while Eric looks for work. The kids become even more unhappy with their situation when strange occurrences start happening and benevolent spirits eventually capture Madison on another plane of existence where they want her to lead them into the light. Eventually, the Bowens’ turn to paranormal investigators who call in TV star Carrigan Burke (Jared Harris), before all hell breaks loose and they lose Madison to the afterlife forever.
If there’s anything working against Poltergeist, it’s familiarity. Rarely does Pulitzer Prize-winner David Lindsay-Abaire (for his 2007 play Rabbit Hole) stray too far off the ghostly beaten path. Fanboys may cry foul because there have been a few alterations. Mainly some sequences are combined, and the 90-minute runtime lops out a good 20 minutes that may still work in the original version, but would seem like padding here. This is a far leaner story, but the familial characterization is never lacking. Especially with Rockwell and DeWitt in the parental roles. And anyone who thinks Madison’s involvement has been reduced from Carol Anne’s needs to rewatch the original. She is a far more minor character than you may remember.
Producer Sam Raimi may have done better with rebooting his own beloved Evil Dead series, but the spirit of Poltergeist remains the same. Your everyday family in peril still manages to sting as much as it did in 1982 and who wouldn’t go to these lengths to get one of their children back? With a great mix of practical and amped-up CGI, the one improvement is a super creepy escapade into what lurks within Madison’s closet. Something I didn’t realize I didn’t really want to see. These scenes may not be quite as effective as the “The Further” in the Insidious series, but I’m more than glad I haven’t been sucked into any soul-eating closets.
And what’s creepier than the original clown doll? Probably not much, but let’s just say that you don’t want to wind up with a whole box of them. Also, the tree attack is bigger than it was originally and just as thrilling. All things told, there will be people who complain about Poltergeist getting the reboot treatment, but it’s way better than most of the remakes in recent years. It’s too bad we’ve been there, done that, and still do at least once a year, otherwise, Poltergeist would have been a great standalone film. Considering I don’t even hate the original sequels, I suppose I’ll be in the minority of those more than happy that the series is back on the big screen, and won’t mind more sequels in the future either.