Gil Keenan’s Poltergeist remake has had an uphill battle since it was first announced, mostly because Tobe Hooper’s 1982 classic of the same name is as close to perfect as a haunted house movie can get—there’s virtually nothing, aside from some special effects, that would benefit from a remake. But the funny thing about reimagining these classic films is that when they’re good, they’re usually fucking great. So there’s a fine line when it comes to remakes, and more often than not, they’re on the wrong side of it. Gil Keenan was tasked with bringing Poltergeist to a new audience, but it unfortunately can’t escape the ghost of its original counterpart. In it, a family whose suburban home is haunted by evil forces must come together to rescue their youngest daughter after the apparitions take her captive.
I can’t exactly tell you what makes a remake good, but I can say that more often than not, the good remakes are the films that take an original idea and turn it into their own. By doing this, and not following the same beats as the original film, you’re creating a level of mystery and intrigue by taking an idea we’re all familiar with and turning it on its head. The problem with Keenan’s remake is that instead of trying to stand on its own, it essentially becomes a bad version of the 1982 film. That’s not how you’re suppose to do it.
But let’s not compare apples to apples. How does Keenan’s Poltergeist work as a horror film all on its own? It is, unfortunately, a lot like every other Hollywood horror movie. It’s scariest moments are the ones being conjured out of thin air by typical jump scare tactics—loud noises and the all too predictable throwing random crap at the screen. It’s such a cheap way to “scare” the audience because that stuff only works on 13-year-old girls and people who can’t even pronounce the name of your movie right. Please, horror fans deserve a little more credit than that.
It all feels rushed and lifeless, not giving us enough of a reason to care about the family. If you take away a fraction of those jump scares and focus your attention on building tension and developing lovable, real characters, you walk away from an entirely different film. And that applies to every movie ever made—give us a reason to care about it. It’s really disappointing to see a remake of such an unbelievably great film like Poltergeist, and seeing it turned into a “How to Make a Horror Movie For Dummies” style of film. The potential was there, the cast was great, but it’s all wrapped up in a dull, un-scary atmosphere with far too much CGI. I will say this, though, Sam Rockwell and Jared Harris are wonderful, giving the film somewhat of a pulse, so there’s that.
I wish the result was different, I really do. I was rooting for Keenan and his remake for a long time, hoping for a serviceable reimagining that took the terrifying notion of a child being dragged into a ghostly dimension and running away with it in an exciting new direction. Instead, we’re left with a forgettable horror film that will forever be haunted by a movie that was made over 30 years ago.
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