Poltergeist (2015) review

Poltergeist 2015 posterDirector: Gil Kenan

Starring: Sam Rockwell, Rosemarie DeWitt, Kennedi Clements, Kyle Catlett, Jared Harris, Saxon Sharbino, Jane Adams

“They’re here.” (Madison, Poltergeist)

As you’ll know if you already read my review, the original 1982 Poltergeist is one of my favourite films of all time.

I should also point out that I’m not the sort of person who instantly hates remakes because they’re remakes. I got all that out of my system during my film buff university days and these days I’ll happily judge remakes – such as the brilliant 2004 Dawn Of The Dead and 2005 King Kong (hey, I liked it) – on their own merits.

That said, this new Poltergeist is shite.

As before, it tells the story of the Freeling Bowen family, who have just moved into a new home. And, as before, it soon emerges that the house is packing some paranormal power.


At first only the youngest children, Carol Anne Madison and Robbie Griffin, witness the spooky shenanigans. They both get a giggle out of the closet’s ability to make their hair stand up, and Madison has the occasional chat with the voices in the telly.

When their parents go out for dinner with friends and leave the kids at home though, shit goes down and ‘Maddie’ disappears. Hmmm. That sounds familiar.

This particular Maddie has been taken by the house itself: she’s been pulled into a portal in her closet and is now trapped in an alternate dimension where all manner of ghosts are trying to make their way to ‘the light’ and want to use Madison’s pure heart to take them there.

That's more lumens than are necessary, really
That’s more lumens than are necessary, really

Her parents (who this time are slightly more skeptical because they weren’t there to witness this as in the original) enlist the help of a paranormal investigator and her assistant to try to find Madison. Cue jump scares and obvious ‘made for 3D’ shots a-plenty.

The original Poltergeist worked so well because it had a perfect family dynamic. Although Tobe Hooper officially ‘directed’ it, the influence of producer Steven Spielberg is so obvious that many have since claimed it was the big Double-S himself who was perched on the director’s chair.

The Freelings were a family you fell in love with. The parents had a relationship you warmed to, the kids were all adorable, even their teenage daughter had a bit of an attitude (when she flips the bird to the builders chatting her up you think “yaaasssss”).

The Bowens, meanwhile, are just drips. Actually, that isn’t entirely fair: Sam Rockwell does his best as the father and you can tell he’s trying to bring as much of that believably Spielberg-ian warmth to his performance as he can.

Not that sort of warmth, mind
Not that sort of warmth, mind

Meanwhile, Kennedi Clements as Madison may somehow be even more bloody adorable than Heather O’Rourke was as Carol Anne in the original: even though she’s not necessarily a better young actress.

But it says a lot when the mother character in a 1982 film feels more progressive and relevant than the same character in 2015, to the extent that she is no longer the one who saves her daughter from the portal, leaving that duty to her son instead.

Gone too is the extra dynamic the investigators brought to the original film when they entered the house. The main female investigator has no notable bond with the mother – something I loved in the ’82 film – and even though I only saw the film last night I couldn’t begin to describe to you what her male assistant looked like.

"What do you mean it's only a one-off? But I've been waiting so long for TFI Friday to return"
“What do you mean it’s only a one-off? But I’ve been waiting so long for TFI Friday to return”

Finally, the impact of the third act is lessened somewhat when the specialist is called in to save the day.

In the original this specialist was played by dinky little Zelda Rubenstein, the joke being that this gentle, squeaky-voiced 4’3″ woman was the unexpected answer to their problems: the very embodiment of the ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ and ‘size isn’t everything’ morals.

This time, she’s replaced by a six foot tall Irishman who looks like he could kick the living piss out of a spook should it have the utter gall to so much as glance in his direction.

"Can a man not have a fookin PISS in front of a fookin doorstep any more?"
“Can a man not have a fookin PISS in front of a fookin doorstep any more?”

What you end up with, then, is a family that doesn’t feel very believable supported by investigators who seem like they couldn’t give a shit and an expert who’s too badass to ever make you think he could possibly fail.

Follow this up with a bunch of CGI stuff replacing the original’s practical effects – including a ridiculous sequence in which a toy drone is sent into the portal so we can essentially enjoy a theme park ride style tour of the ghost world – and the result is massively disappointing.

I appreciate the hypocrisy in me saying I judge remakes on their own merits and then proceeding to compare the 2015 Poltergeist to the original throughout.

Even the clown scene fucks it a bit
Even the clown scene fucks it a bit

As a standalone film, though, it’s just weak. It isn’t scary, it isn’t effective, it’s a PG horror film in every sense of the word except the Spielberg sense.

Granted, there are far worse films out there, and if it comes on the telly one night when there’s nothing else on it’ll harmlessly pass an hour and a half. But put it next to the classic it takes its name from and it doesn’t stand a ghost of a chance.


Poltergeist is just about finishing its cinema run. The Blu-ray will be out later this year.



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