There was so much buzz among horror fans that even the hype had hype. The original 1982 Poltergeist was nothing short of a horror masterpiece, so you had your divided crowd. There were those that are sick of Hollywood remakes in general, much less a classic. Then, there were those that don't appreciate anything that isn't shiny and new. This review came from an open-minded place. After all, Dawn of the Dead had an amazing remake. With Sam Rockwell and Sam Rami attached, it certainly had promise. A promise that it failed to keep. I do not like having people break their promise.
The cheapness of the writing and directing was evident almost from the start. It does not creep along with finesse and ease like a finely crafted movie. Instead, it races from start to finish like a Cliff Notes version of the original. It makes wide leaps from point A to point B. Example: When the parapsychologists arrive, they all immediately go to the closet. No one was present when the little girl, Maddie, was sucked into the infamous closet, so how did the family know? It throws character points at the audience like an automatic ball pitcher machine. The painfully obvious and unnecessary "tv show" pre-introduction of the medium (played by the very talented and usually on-point Jared Harris) treated the audience like idiots who couldn't accept the character without that "modern twist." (Besides, wouldn't it have been creepier and more interesting to have him dug up from the deepest regions of the world than to be a cheesy tv personality?)
The acting and character development were surprisingly flat. Sam Rockwell, who is a stellar actor in the right roles, seemed to literally not care in most of the scenes. After they (quickly) discover that Maddie is in the tv, Rockwell (as the father) reacts as though the child had been taken by Child Protective Services rather than an unknown force. He was calm and rational, never emitting any level of shock. His lines were mostly uninspired and forced. The role of Maddie, meanwhile, seemed to be cast merely because of Kennedi Clemments big, beautiful, and bizarre eyes than her acting ability. There was a moment where she was laughing and then immediately stopped, fully aware that she was following directions. On the flip side, the rest of the family tried to step up to the plate. Saxon Sharbino (what an awesome name) delivered most of the time as the eldest sister. The mother, played by Rosemary Dewitt, paddled for all she was worth on this sinking lifeboat. The true acknowledgement had to be given to Kyle Catlett as the middle child. He was wonderfully in control as an actor through these messy scenes. He never dropped that sense of dread that appeared to be a character trait rather than simply a reaction to the scene. In other words, he was a natural worry wort. Also, Jane Adams, was charming and effective as the head of the parapsychology department. Otherwise, the acting was a sheer disappointment.
The pacing was infuriating. They try to deliver the "horror" so early on that it leaves you few places to climb to as the movie continues. Then, they use the old trick of "slow-motion acting" which probably increased the movie's run time by 30 minutes. A boy slowly reaches for the softball. A dad slowly reaches for the door. The mom slowly reaches for her husband's shoulder. I slowly reach for my phone and keys to leave the theater. Seriously, people don't move like that in real life! Get on with it. Yet we are forced through the possibly meaningful moments at break-neck speeds?
There were a few new additions that I did appreciate. The look at the "other side" was one of them. Although they overused the CGI (no shocker) and did not follow through with the tension, the idea was certainly nice. I enjoyed the relationship of the medium and the parapsychologist. It was believable and added to the characters' story (which was desperately needed).
I could go on about the onslaught of plot holes (Like how the kids were able to escape the "other side" or why did no one refer back to the bone that was found in the front yard after they discussed the home being on a burial ground? Maybe because it was lazier to have the medium "sense" it.) The writing and directing flaws are plenty for the picking (The older daughter delighted by the t.v. celebrity in her home, even though she was traumatized minutes earlier that her sister had been abducted). In the end, it is simply enough to say that this movie was written in such haste without any effort to live up to the original source material that it didn't even pass as a quality horror movie. Even with the great effort of trying not to compare this to the original, this movie fails to be anything other than a predictable and causeless attempt to grab our money and a little recognition through names. It was reduced to a typical PG horror movie when it could have been supernatural.
What you might watch instead:
The Conjouring - Though a bit predictable and not great on scares, the quality of the overall production was well-worth the watch.
Sinister - This movie takes an entirely different approach to the "family vs supernatural enemy" theme. The characters are real. The horror is real.
Poltergeist (1982) - Seriously, just go watch the original. It still stands up today as an intense, fun, and well-crafted ride.