Review: Poltergeist 2015


In several independent haunted house films, admirers of horror often accept greener acting, looking beyond lesser performances for well-crafted ideas and atmosphere. Is it only fair and balanced then that a studio offering should prove the opposite? With a similar easy chemistry and authenticity of the Freelings, Rosemarie DeWitt, Sam Rockwell and kids Saxon Sharbino, Kyle Catlett and Kennedi Clements are a terrific troop to be menaced by a volatile presence. That’s not to mention the perfect pair Jane Adams and Jared Harris make as playful paranormal experts. Sadly, it’s the horror that never passes muster.

Well, never is a bit strong. There’s a terrific scare or two, unsurprisingly in sequences not overtly tied to recreating the 1982 haunted house classic from which Poltergeist 2015 is sourced. Also unsurprisingly, these moments are ones of physical, tangible terror that utilize classical, but no less effective, genre tenets like shadow and impact. Clements’ first encounter with the realm beyond her closet is even colorful and slightly psychedelic.

These pieces largely belong to the first half of the film, when Poltergeist is buzzing with fun and ideas, and end up a disappointing parallel for how it all readily drops them. Things move fairly quickly in this tale of the Bowen family and their haunted new home in a suburban development. Early on, Saxon Sharbino as the eldest daughter, Kendra, is frightened by a skeletal presence in the garage, as corpse hands reach up and drag her down into a bubbling thick, black bile. Director Gil Kenan and DP Javier Aguirresarobe play it all with spooky panache, revealing the corpse in shadow, but without a sound jolt. Later, similarly grotesque beings appear, but are far less eerie or interesting thanks both to the weightlessness of VFX (missing the mark of “ethereal”) and the fact that it’s appeared far freakier, earlier.

Similarly, Kenan spends much of the first half of the film focused on connection, both the family’s—as a tight knit, if financially struggling group—and that of the wired and wireless kind. The Bowen’s financial reality reads more for verisimilitude than it does a comment on insidious suburbia, though Kenan and writer David Lindsay-Abbaire’s subversion of Rockwell’s Dad being recently laid off instead of Craig T. Nelson’s shining realtor star is sharp. The middle class suburbs of Poltergeist 2015 are like those of It Follows: an imperfect middle ground surrounded by the seemingly supernatural, be it an unattainable better neighborhood or actual ghosts.

The film’s larger interests instead lie in constant tech connection. This isn’t exactly crotchety or disapproving of newfangled-ness, thankfully. Instead it’s simply fascinated by a world connected by power lines, and in which all the devices in our home are increasingly and technologically synced. Poltergeist seems to be asking if the sheer abundance and power of waves and information floating around can connect to something else, as well; something beyond our understanding.

Since the film’s answer is apparently, “yes,” the question or atmosphere surrounding it is quickly left behind. Upon young Maddy’s reappearance inside the television, the Bowen family consults paranormal researcher Dr. Brooke Powell, played by a very game Adams. She later brings on an equally amused Harris, whose Carrigan Burke is a knowing, harried star of a ghost-hunting reality series entitled “House Cleaners.” It’s a legitimately funny way to end up including one of Poltergeist 1982’s most iconic lines (“They’re here” doesn’t pack the same punch), and the Adams-Harris connection is yet another to be commended. Poltergeist often feels as if it wishes it could simply have its own haunted adventure with the paranormal pair (Harris continuously makes references to his rich, haunted history), rather than repeatedly have to nod toward its predecessor. The clown, the tree, the reflective surface face terror, the closet-rope-living room route all show up in rushed manner. There’s even a Poltergeist II: The Other Side call.

It’s a race through all of them however, especially the finale, which hinders any of it from being rousing or affecting or creepy or wondrous. Of course, the race then sidelines the actual time we spend enjoying with the Bowens, be they frightened or awe-struck. As their own amazement dwindles, so does our enthusiasm.


Marvel and DC