Review: Poltergeist, this house is not clear

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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19 thoughts on “Review: Poltergeist, this house is not clear

  1. I haven’t bothered to see this … There were no critic screenings so I have to pay for this! It came out the other day but your review has convinced me to skip it!

  2. It seems to me that it doesn’t just exist in the original’s shadow, it exists in the shadow of every other “family moves into a haunted house” movie: Insidious, The Conjuring, Amityville Horror…about ten minutes in, after we establish that the family is in dire financial straits, and that the house is on the market for a song, AND the little girl starts talking to an imaginary friend, I said to myself, “If the ghost turns out to be a pig named Jody, I’m checking out.”

    I think there were bits that worked. I really liked the cast, especially Rockwell and Harris. The “glimpses” of the CGI underworld were remarkably horrific for a PG-13 movie. (Of course, they ruin it by setting an entire sequence there, showing too much in the process.) But overall, it just stank.

    1. I couldn’t have said it any better, man. It’s bad as a remake and it’s just as bad as a stand alone film. And you’re right on about the ghostly dimension. What a really cool idea, and a perfect way to differentiate it from the original, but it’s entirely wasted on a very video game like sequence.

  3. Hmm. Remakes that take a great movie & just make a bad movie out of it piss me off. I’ll never understand the point of it! Sad to hear that this one got it completely wrong (as do 90% of horror remakes). Wonder if we’ll ever get another Dawn of the Dead?! I’ll be skipping this one. Nice review. 🙂

    1. Yeah, it unfortunately falls under the bad remakes. I loved the Dawn of the Dead remake, I thought it was a pretty great take on the original.

      1. I know! And the original Dawn of the Dead is one of my favorite movies of all time. Yet the remake was great! Was more of a reimagining instead of just remaking the same movie again.

      2. Yep, that’s when remakes are at their best imo. Too bad this one couldn’t have been one of them.

  4. I was tempted to see this because I thought the trailer looked pretty decent (except when the girl gets dragged up the stairs – that looked funny XD) but I guess it’s become like any other horror remake which is sad.

    1. I actually quite liked the trailers as well and was hopeful this could have been a lot better. It is, unfortunately, nothing special. We’ve seen it before!

  5. I seen this at the cinema last night. The best part of the night was the trailer for “Insidious 3” .

  6. Fantastic review Ryan, really good. Very fair.

    I feared the worst for this film just watching the trailer. I thought it looked very generic and poor – considering it’s based on such a classic!! I’m not against remakes at all, but this genuinely looked rubbish. The CGI looked laughable and the ‘scares’ just the same old clap trap we’ve seen time and time before. Which is fine for any old clap trap movie, but not Poltergeist.

    I totally agree, the best remakes always have to put their own spin on things, like The Evil Dead recently(ish).

    1. Thanks! Yeah they pretty much did this remake in the safest most boring way possible. A real shame, especially because the potential is there.

      The Evil Dead remake is perfection. New remakes need to take notes from that one because it’s hardly even a remake at all, it just exists in the same world as the other films. Love that movie!

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