What is the point of doing a remake? This is the question I found myself asking as I watched the 2015 version of Poltergeist. Sometimes a film can use an update to better communicate with a modern audience, but Poltergeist doesn’t really need that, as the terrifying appeal of a bunch of spirits haunting a family home is timeless as portrayed in the original film. So why remake it other than to update the daily technology to more modern relatable appliances (and make a quick buck off name recognition)? There sadly isn’t much of an answer to that.
The names are different, but the basic premise and plot points are still the same. A family of five moves into a suburban home and the children begin to detect otherworldly presences with them in the house. Strange things start occurring, such as televisions reverting to static, dolls moving on their own, and balls bouncing into frame. One night, the haunting becomes so severe that the youngest daughter is pulled into the spirits’ realm, and the family must call upon the help of paranormal investigators to get her back. Some details have been changed for modernity’s sake, such as a medium character being changed to a reality show ghost hunter and the use of a drone camera to take a look into the spirit realm, but more or less the nuts and bolts of the plot remain identical.
What I found most appreciated were the lighthearted touches that director Gil Kenan managed to slip into the first half of the film. The slow build-up can sometimes be pretty dull in horror flicks, so it’s nice to see a director recognize that it’s fine to have fun with the premise. Sam Rockwell and Rosemarie DeWitt have wonderful chemistry as the haunted family’s parents, with witty banter that never becomes so ever-present as to pull away the building tension, but still gives them personality where they otherwise would have been stock archetypes.
That said, though, the film can’t help but be compared to its predecessor, and this is clearly the inferior film. Many of the classic moments of the original film have been recreated to shrug-worthy effect, and other effects feel derivative of other recent haunted house flicks. There’s nothing new here, right down to the obviously CGI ghosts that later appear, completely breaking the tension as the clean polygonal figures never escape the uncanny valley.
Overall, this new Poltergeist is technically proficient and effective, but utterly pointless. With the recent renaissance of better crafted, low budget horror films, this not only feels like just another in a wave of lackluster studio horror projects, but it also doesn’t even serve as an adequate modern surrogate for the original. It at least doesn’t often resort to jump scares, but that minor point cannot save this film from its utter lack of raison d’etre. Give this one a pass and pick up the original.