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Poltergeist

D: Gil Kenan / 93m

Cast: Sam Rockwell, Rosemarie DeWitt, Jared Harris, Jane Adams, Kyle Catlett, Saxon Sharbino, Kennedi Clements, Susan Heyward, Nicholas Braun

The Bowens – recently laid-off Eric (Rockwell), aspiring writer Amy (DeWitt), teenage daughter Kendra (Sharbino), young son Griffin (Catlett), and youngest daughter Madison (Clements) – move into their new home on a quiet estate. It’s a new start for all of them, but Griffin, who’s a nervous child at the best of times, senses that there’s something “off” about the house. When he finds Madison talking to someone in her room – who isn’t there – it adds to his unease. Later that night he finds a box full of clown toys that makes him even more anxious, as it seems one of them just might be alive.

The next day sees even more strange phenomena happen throughout the house, phenomena that escalates once Eric and Amy have gone out for the evening to a dinner party. Kendra is attacked in the basement, Griffin is grabbed by the tree in their front yard, and Madison disappears through a portal that opens up in the back of her wardrobe. Eric and Amy arrive home in time to save Griffin but when they can’t find Madison – who can now only speak to them through the TV – they turn to a group of paranormal investigators led by Dr Brooke Powell (Adams) to help get their daughter back. When events escalate even further, and it becomes clear that there are spirits trying to use Madison to free themselves from their earthly prison, Powell asks for help from an unlikely source: her ex-husband and TV ghost hunter Carrigan Burke (Harris). With time running out, a rescue mission is attempted to try and bring back Madison before it’s too late, but while Carrigan, Eric and Amy argue about who should go, Griffin beats them to it…

Poltergeist - scene

Another week, another unwanted horror movie remake. As with all the other horror remakes we’ve been “treated” to in the past five or six years, Poltergeist fails to hit the mark it’s aiming for, and is about as scary as a loaf of bread. This version also can’t decide if it wants to be a straight-up remake, or a completely new reimagining, and because it can’t decide it ends up being an unwieldy, awkward mix of the two. And despite the more than capable cast, you don’t care about any of the characters, not even Madison. Part of the problem here is that in trying to be respectful of the original movie but not slavish to it, the makers have missed the whole reason why Tobe Hooper’s version was, partly, so good: it was fresh and we hadn’t seen anything like it before. This version is tired from the moment that Griffin walks in the door and starts looking around suspiciously. Uh-oh! Something’s up!

There’s no tension this time round either. When the tree outside Griffin’s room is first seen we know it’s supposed to be spooky and creepy and eerie and menacing, but in the hands of the usually talented Kenan – working from David Lindsay-Abaire’s by the numbers script – it’s just a tree blowing in the wind, again and again. It’s yet another example of how familiarity breeds disappointment. To make matters worse, the performances range from unexceptional (Sharbino, Adams) to disappointing (Rockwell, DeWitt) to annoying (Harris), and each attempt to add depth to the characters or story is left high and dry by not being followed through. All in all it’s a movie where just enough was done to get by.

Rating: 4/10 – good production values save this from being a complete dud, but as a horror movie that doesn’t provide any real scares it’s a far cry from effective; when there are movies of the calibre of It Follows (2014) out there showing how it should be done, it makes this Poltergeist look very redundant indeed.

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