A family whose suburban home is haunted by evil forces must come together to rescue their youngest daughter after the apparitions take her captive.
Those who grew up in the 70s and 80s as I did, will undoubtedly be familiar with two words…”They’re heeere!” They were spoken by the late Heather O’Rourke who played Carol Anne in the now famous ghost story “Poltergeist.” The movie was written and produced by Steven Spielberg and directed by horror maestro Tobe Hooper and spawned two inferior sequels as well as a TV series and countless direct-to-video standalone movies. When word came out a few years back that Hollywood was getting ready to remake “Poltergeist,” people immediately asked “Why?” Why indeed. The original is deemed a classic by fans and critics worldwide so why make it all over again? One word sums it up perfectly…Money! Hollywood is all about remaking anything that was once successful and it wouldn’t surprise me if “Poltergeist II” was announced in the coming weeks. While both versions are similar in terms of the overall story, director Gil Kenan adds enough substance and definition to give the new film its own identity. Eric and Amy Bowen (Sam Rockwell and Rosemarie DeWitt), make the decision to move to a smaller house in a new neighborhood after Eric loses his job but no sooner have they moved in, than the kids begin to experience strange goings-on.
Initially, they shrug them off but these pissed off spirits make it their business to be heard. While Eric and Amy are out one evening with friends, Kendra (Saxon Sharbino), the eldest of their three kids, is left to babysit the younger children, Griffin (Kyle Catlett) and Madison (Kennedi Clements). In no time, both Kendra and Griffin are kept preoccupied by unknown forces which gives the spirits time to snatch Madison and take her to their world, a dimension within the house not visible to the naked eye. The family seek the help of a small group of paranormal professionals and when they bring along a famous ghost hunter, Carrigan Burke (Jared Harris), he informs everyone that these spirits have become cantankerous and maleficent, a result of their gravestones having been moved but their bodies remaining behind and built upon by the very housing estate they are standing in. With the family being able to communicate, albeit briefly, with Madison through the static on their TV, Carrigan figures out a way to get Madison back to her family but the evil spirits have no intentions of letting her go.
This new version will undeniably be compared to its classic predecessor and while 99.99% of remakes are typically pale imitations of their previous iterations, this is one of those rare occasions where it actually works. Granted, it comes nowhere close to the charm and appeal of the original but director Gil Kenan is quite adept at setting up scenes of anxiety and tension to great effect. The all-encompassing feel of the movie is reminiscent of cinematographer Matthew F. Leonetti, who shot the original movie utilizing beautiful widescreen camera angles accompanied by, when required, slow tracking shots that allow the audience to connect with the characters and story onscreen. Sam Rockwell and Rosemarie DeWitt shine in their respective roles and the children are commendable but Jared Harris steals the show. Full of sarcasm and cynicism, he adds much-needed humor as the story progresses into concernment and seriousness. Thankfully, the movie avoids, for the most part, the quintessential jump-scares that accompany most horror films these days and instead, we are acquainted with legitimate chilling moments that involve trees, toy clowns, cellphones and squirrels.
We’ve had 33 years to take in the original “Poltergeist” and let it burrow inside of our senses as one of the finest ghost stories ever put on film but with this new installment, after the hype has died down, I think it will surprise a great many people when they finally see it and realize that it is better than it has a right to be.
In theaters May 22nd
For more info about James visit his website at www.IrishFilmCritic.com