Monday, 25 May 2015

Film Review: Poltergeist


I ain't afraid of no geist. 

Poltergeist is a remake of the classic 1980's horror of the same name - directed by Gil Kenan and starring Sam Rockwell and Rosemarie DeWitt, it may be uninspired and generic, but it's not your typical failed horror remake.

The premise is fairly straightforward and one that you've most likely heard a bazillion times before - an everyday American family (Rockwell, DeWitt) move into a new neighbourhood only to find that their new home in plagued by spooky occurrences and things going bump in the night. When their youngest daughter Madison (Kennedi Clements) mysteriously disappears into a different dimension, they must call upon an expert ghost buster hunter to venture across the void and get her back.

If you fell asleep during that synopsis, you're not alone. It's a template that has been copy pasted across dozens of horror films since the dawn of time, and parodied endlessly in everything from Scary Movie to The Simpsons and Community. As you can expect, Kenan's remake is haunted by the ghost of the original and there are essentially no surprises hidden within this strangely bloodless reimagining of Poltergeist - with an M-rating (in order to ensnare the essential tween audience), this new version feels like a big-budget episode of  Doctor Who where the only thing missing is Peter Capaldi and a big blue box parked on the front lawn.

For a horror movie that sports a gurning clown on the poster, Poltergeist isn't particularly scary. Seriously! I'm not just saying that to sound cool, because believe me, I get scared really easily. The Babadook? I shat my pants. Woman in Black? Forget it, I'm looking forward to getting sleep tonight. But Poltergeist is so watered-down that it might as well be starring Elmo and showing on The CW.

The tone is really hard to pin down. In some parts, it's a full-blown action/adventure with comedic banter thrown in. The actual horror elements fade in and out like a ghostly apparition where things start off rather eerie before the movie dispenses with that and moves onto something noisier. Rather than stringing it out and building tension, Kenan blows his load way too early - one scene about 20 minutes in has everything from killer clowns, feral squirrels and the Whomping Willow terrorising the family. 20 minutes! That's all it took! Talk about go hard or go home. After that, the film never regains that sense of true horror.

But you know what? Despite all this, I'm ashamed to say I really enjoyed this film. It's so darn silly that you're given no choice but to laugh at it all. Sam Rockwell was on fire as the king of all dad jokes whilst Jared Harris was great as the grizzled ghostbuster the family recruit to clean their house. The kids are a little shaky (Saxon Sharbino is given nothing to do but glare at her phone and sulk the entire time) but, for the most part, it didn't bother me.

Fun but forgettable, silly but not scary, Poltergeist sits somewhere in between sugary young adult and cold-blooded horror. If that's your jam, you'll get a kick out of the hammy acting, questionable CGI and signposted jump scares. If you're looking for something meatier, I suggest leaving this one to gather dust in the JB Hi-Fi bargain bin where it belongs.

The Verdict: 5/10


It might be a shameless cash-grab that is more likely to put you to sleep than scare your pants off, but Poltergeist does have a few redeeming factors hiding at the back of the closet. Accept it for what it is and don't take it too seriously to ensure maximum enjoyment.

Poltergeist is in cinemas now.

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