Horror remakes have a bumpy reputation. There are some, such as 2013's Evil Dead, that take the original, treat it with respect and tell the story over, adding enough unique layers to stand on its own. They're rare, but they work. Then there are others, such as 2009's Friday the 13th, that take the original, try to treat it with respect and just add a whole lot more gore and/or sex to make it feel as if it's a newer, darker tale for a new generation. Then there are some that are just plain awful, such as 1998's Psycho, and it's these films that have absolutely no idea what they're doing. Poltergeist fits into all three of these categories, although not so much the first one.
Following an almost identical plot to the original film, Poltergeist tells the story of a family. They're new in town. They move into what appears to be a decent house, but guess what? It's not. Yep, it's a haunted house. Who could've guessed? The spirits present, the poltergeists, are trapped between the realm of the living and the realm of the dead, and to get to the afterlife, they must be guided by a human. They decide to take 6 year old, Madison (Kennedi Clements), bringing her into the spirit world. Now it's up to her family to bring her back and get rid of the ghosts before they keep Madison there forever.
The original Poltergeist movie is a terrifying, spine chilling masterpiece. I was watching it again just yesterday and it's a film that not only scares the living daylights out of me, but also has an engaging family plot too. It draws you into these characters lives and gets you to care about them. With the new Poltergeist, not only did they forget the scares, but they also forgot to make us care about these characters. The dad, played by Sam Rockwell, I liked, but that's more than likely because it's Sam Rockwell playing Sam Rockwell. The rest of the cast fail to appeal.
Even Madison failed to impress. In the original film, the main girl (who's name was Carol Anne) was an adorable, likeable and sweet child who looked up to her family and copied them in day to day situations. In the new film, she's a child who looks up to her family and copies them in day to day situations. She's actually a bit of a brat, demanding things to happen now and insulting the pizza they eat for dinner one night. She's not likeable and hence, when her character is taken away, I didn't really feel emotionally invested. I didn't care for the fact that she's probably going to be emotionally scarred for the rest of her life. It didn't hit home for me.
When updated to suit modern technology, the film becomes overly flashy and in your face. It literally rubs every scare into the screen, trying to get you to jump or scream. Instead of having just a static screen, the filmmakers decided to have hands touching it. Scary at first glimpse, but dumb and gimmicky after a while. Remember that tree scene from the original film? Yeah, well now you can witness it in 3D as it climbs through a house and grabs a kid and nobody really cares about the fact THAT A FREAKING TREE JUST GRABBED SOMEONE! I love the scene in the original film, but my god, it is not done well here.
Director Gil Kenan, who's other two films were Monster House and City of Ember, tries to make this film scary. He tries and I could see what he was going for. His long, smooth and stylised shots don't help to build suspense, which is clearly what he was trying to do, but they do look nice, so that's a plus. The problem is, I don't think Kenan is that familiar with what makes a horror movie suspenseful. He shows everything, which is what the original was so good at not doing. It hid stuff from the audience, not even showing what it looks like in the spirt world. Kenyan does the opposite, showing what's behind every single scare.
Remember that brilliant scene in the original film where the mum manages to speak to her daughter? Remember that feeling of suspense as we hear the daughter talk to somebody else? Somebody we can't see. I remember that feeling. It was a horrible feeling, and that's just what I want from a horror movie like this. In the remake, this scene is there. It's there and it just doesn't work. Perhaps it's because I knew what was to come or perhaps it's because they rush right to the scare. There's no build up.
When the original movie ended, I was still trembling. Not because it pulls a found footage trick on us and ends with the biggest, most nonsensical scare of all, but because I still didn't know what Carroll Anne experienced. I was still unsure of what it was like in the place she was. There's a feeling of dread and sickness that comes with the fear of the unknown. In Poltergeist, this feeling didn't come once. We see her in this realm. We see her walking around and interacting with spirits and it's more comedic than it is frightening.
As for the dialogue, however, that was just straight up comedic. There's no two ways about it. It's corny, clichéd and straight up laughable at times. Just before the iconic "they're here" line is said, young Madison decides to warn us that "they're coming." Why? I don't know, but it completely takes away from the impact of that classic quote. The best scenes in this movie are the ones where nobody talks, and unfortunately that's something that rarely happens. Just go watch the original film three more times. After the third viewing, I'm sure it's still scarier than the remake.
To sum up, Poltergeist tries to hit all the same beats and scares as the first film, but really fails with its unlikeable and unsympathetic characters, a severe lack of suspense, clichéd dialogue and plenty of in your face moments. This film is subtlety at its lowest.