Poltergeist Has Some Curb Appeal, But Needs A Ton Of Work.

Poltergeist.
Director: Gil Kenan.
Writer: David Lindsay-Abaire.
Cast: Sam Rockwell, Rosemarie DeWitt, Jared Harris, Jane Adams.
Playing At: Wide.

What is the point of static on a flat-screen TV?

There's no point, obviously. It’s a remnant of an era that doesn't exist anymore.

Likewise, the original Poltergeist may look a little dated, but it's endured over the years because it taps not only into every child's fears — strange noises, creeping darkness — but also every parent's fear of not being able to protect their kids.

This remake of Poltergeist, competent as it is, misses that point almost entirely. It may provide a few scares and make some decent money this summer, but like the haunted house the family moves into, it’s not built to last. It's a quick burst of cold air, but nothing that provides real goosebumps.

Just as before, a family moves into a house in a neighborhood built on a cemetery and creepy things start happening almost immediately. This Poltergeist doesn't really take its time building to anything; its character development leaves a lot to be desired. It’s just: Here's the family, here are the ghosts, let's play ball.

There are occasional glimpses of a more challenging movie: Eric (Sam Rockwell) is out of work and a borderline alcoholic who tries to avoid his problems by buying a lot of unnecessary stuff. But the movie quickly blows past that to get to some creepy clowns and haunted closets that lead to another dimension.

Part of what made the original so effective was that it was more about the terror invading the house — and not really anything having to do with the other way around. Here, though, much of the third act is devoted to seeing inside the “spiritual plane.” Steven Spielberg, credited with the story here, should know better, having learned this lesson with Jaws: Creepy things tend to be a lot creepier when you can't see them.

We see those things this time, though. And, as you might begrudgingly expect, much of the time we spend in the other world looks like a video game, complete with unnecessary 3-D, which mostly just makes things extra difficult to process. That's a stark contrast from the original film, which allegedly used real human remains in some scenes — a highly unethical and bad juju-inviting move, but one that at least it gave the film some grit. Here, everything just looks like it was made on a computer.

Is it unfair to constantly compare this remake to the original? Probably. But that's all that can be done when this movie really doesn't have its own style and aims simply to update the clothes and technology into the story of the original.

No, this Poltergeist isn't terrible. It's just completely unnecessary — especially in the wake of the likes of Paranormal Activity, Insidious and The Conjuring.

Grade: C.

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