Remaking a beloved film is a particularly scary task, especially when that film is 1982's horror masterpiece Poltergeist. When reports first emerged that Tobe Hooper's classic was getting an update, critics and fans alike immediately wrote it off as unnecessary. Now that it's hit theaters, I encourage moviegoers not to get caught in the trap of comparing and contrasting. Though the remake owes a huge debt to the original and pays homage at a few key moments, Poltergeist is best enjoyed as its own ghostly entity, even if its haunts are somewhat familiar.
Sam Rockwell and Rosemarie DeWitt, two incredibly underrated performers, star as Eric and Amy, a husband and wife duo contending with twenty-first century problems: financial hardship, career stagnation, and all the distractions of modern technology. Their kids Kendra, Griffin, and Madison often seem like they are in their own worlds (and that world is often inside of a screen), but there's clearly a lot of love in this family. As a unit, the Bowens are an especially lovable group that makes the impending terror all the more rattling.
Attempting to make ends meet, the Bowens move into a new home. The kids are the first ones to start experiencing some unexplainable occurrences—moving objects, possessed clowns, and invisible "friends"—but the parents initially pay them no mind. If you're even a fair-weather fan of horror, you probably recognize these as familiar tropes, and it's true that Poltergeist is not a revolutionary film. However, what it lacks in innovation, it makes up for in consistent scares, eye-popping entertainment, and a surprising amount of heart.
As part of the revamp, the new Poltergeist features an impressive array of visual effects, presenting the entire suburban landscape in immersive 3D. In other films, this device quickly becomes a gimmick, with limb after limb flying at the viewer at breakneck speed and no pause for suspense. Poltergeist, on the other hand, uses 3D to surround the audience in the tense, unreliable world where dolls can start floating just out of the corner of your eye.
The story and the thrills ramp up as the supernatural presence becomes more accepted, meaning there are no gaps of boredom or uneven filler scenes. The early scares are restrained, while the finale is superbly thrilling and anxiety-inducing. Without giving too much away, Poltergeist succeeds in the one area that Insidious failed: crafting a satisfying but revealing third act that doesn't leave people scratching their heads. Prepare to be emotionally invested in this family's gripping battle with some very angry spirits, and you'll find some unexpected feelings between screams.
In the end, if you're not too precious about the classics, you'll find Poltergeist to be a scary good time.