Wednesday, May 27, 2015

It Came From The Cineplex: Poltergeist (2015)

Poltergeist (2015) was written by David Lindsay-Abaire and directed by Gil Kenan.

Both previously worked on CG animated features, which of course makes them the perfect choice for a remake of a horror classic. Lindsay-Abaire wrote the screenplays for Robots and Rise Of The Guardians, while Kenan previously directed Monster House. Perhaps they should stick with what they know. Kenan also directed 2008's box office flop City Of Ember, so you know we're in good hands here.

Why, oh why does Hollywood keep doing this? Why do they keep remaking good movies? A remake of a classic film just seems like a losing proposition. It's unlikely you'll be able to outdo the original, and fans will be poised with their torches and pitchforks just waiting for you to make a wrong move. Wouldn't it make far more sense to remake a bad movie and try to improve it?

This new Poltergeist isn't the worst thing I've ever seen, but it offers absolutely nothing new and you'd be better off hunting down the original. C'mon, guys! You've got to bring something innovative to the table when you remake a picture, otherwise it's just a waste of everyone's time on both sides of the screen.

To make things even worse, we've already had several "virtual" Poltergeist remakes in the past couple of years. Both Insidious (2010) and The Conjuring (2013) feature families moving into a new home, experiencing supernatural disturbances revolving around their children and calling in paranormal experts for help. The expert team in Insidious even consists of an older woman and two younger male assistants, just like in the original Poltergeist. With all these copycat films littering the movie landscape, one has to wonder why the studio would bother with a Poltergeist remake. How many times can we watch a family be scared silly by their haunted house?

The original film was innovative in that it took the standard haunted house story out of the Gothic moors and placed it squarely in the tract homes of the suburbs. Audiences were scared witless because the film took place in a safe and familiar setting— suddenly those rows of identical houses didn't seem so inviting, and that TV in the corner started looking a bit too sinister for its own good. The remake takes place in the exact same setting, so it has no innovations to offer.

The 1982 Poltergeist was produced and co-written by Steven Spielberg and directed by Tobe Hooper. For decades though fans have questioned who actually directed the film. In recent years many of the cast and crew alike have stated that Spielberg was the de facto director, as he appeared on set for all but three days, armed with extensive storyboards of the entire movie. Others say he served simply as an adviser to Hooper.

Whichever camp you believe, there's no denying that it was a Spielberg film. His fingerprints are all over every scene. The idyllic suburban setting, the bustling household, the cute kids, the lens flares, the extreme camera zooms, the actors staring in abject wonder at something incredible... if that ain't Spielberg I'll eat my hat.

Too bad he didn't serve as an "adviser" on this remake.

Movie buffs have also pointed out that Poltergeist bears a very strong resemblance to the 1962 Twilight Zone episode Little Girl Lost. That  episode doesn't contain any ghosts, but does feature a little girl who falls out of her bed and slips through a portal in her bedroom wall and into another dimension. She's then rescued by her father, who enters the portal (with a rope tied around his waist) and manages to grab her seconds before it closes forever.

Many fans believe there's a "Poltergeist Curse," as several people involved in the film met with early and sometimes violent deaths. Heather O'Rourke, who played Carol Anne, died at the age of 12 during emergency surgery. Dominique Dunne, who plays eldest daughter Dana, was killed at age 22 by her abusive former boyfriend. Lou Perryman, who played Pugsley in the first film (whoever the hell that is), was murdered in 2009.

Some blame this so-called curse on the fact that the production allegedly used real skeletons in the film's climax instead of more expensive plastic ones (why plastic skeletons are more expensive than real ones, I have no idea), which... I guess angered the spectral owners of those bones? Riiiiight.

I call bunk on the whole curse idea. When you're dealing with a group of people as large as a Hollywood film crew it's just a matter of statistics and probability that a few of them are going to suffer untimely deaths.

So far I've not heard any rumblings about the possibility of a new curse striking the cast of the remake. It's definitely not going to do their careers any good, but I doubt it'll cause any of them to actually die.

Lastly, this past weekend I realized there's currently a Mad Max and a Poltegeist movie playing at my local cineplex, and in a couple weeks there'll be another Jurassic Park film released. What year is this?

SPOILERS FOR A REMAKE OF A THIRTY THREE YEAR OLD MOVIE!

The Plot:
Surely you know the story by now. The Bowen family, consisting of husband Eric, wife Amy and children Kendra, Griffin and Madison, moves into a new home in the suburbs. Unexplained events begin to occur, and Madison starts conversing with someone or something through the family's TV set, uttering the now familiar catchphrase, "They're heeeere."

Eric and Amy attend a dinner party and learn that their subdivision was built on the site of an old cemetery, but fortunately the bodies were all moved first. Or were they? Meanwhile back at their home, all hell breaks loose. An undead hand rises from a crack in the garage floor and clutches Kendra's leg. Griffin is grabbed by the old tree outside his room and dragged outside. Madison chases a toy into her closet and passes into an otherworldly void. The Bowens return and manage to rescue the kids, except for Madison.

They then hear Madison's voice emanating from their TV set. Reluctant to call the police, they contact the local college's Paranormal Research Dept. (which of course every school has) for help. These ghostbusters set up equipment in the Bowen's house and determine that the closet is a portal to the afterlife, which for some reason exits in the ceiling of the living room. Dr. Powell, the head of the Paranormal Dept., feels she's in over her head and contacts her ex-husband, Carrigan Burke (played by Jared Harris).

Burke is the host of a cable TV series about haunted houses, and may or may not be a fraud. He investigates the Bowen's home and determines that there are hundreds of angry, restless spirits inside, and they're using Madison to lead them toward the light, which will end their torment. Unfortunately for Madison, if she goes through the light with them, she'll be gone forever. They come up with a plan to string a rope through the two portals so they can enter, grab Madison and exit. While Eric and Amy are arguing over who should perform the rescue, Griffin leaps into the portal and rescues her. Burke announces that the house is now clean.

The Bowens believe the matter is closed, but Madison never led the spirits to the light, and they come back for her with a vengeance. She's grabbed by an unseen force and dragged upstairs. As the family struggles to prevent her from being sucked back into the portal, Burke tells them to flee and jumps into the vortex himself. The Bowens hightail it out of there, as the house is torn apart by a supernatural explosion.

Later the Bowens are seen looking at a new house, but nix the idea when they see it has spacious closets and a tree in the yard. Com-O-Dee! Burke is revealed to have survived, and is now co-hosting his show with Dr. Powell.

Thoughts:
• If nothing else, the film clocks in at a brisk 93 minutes, so it'll be in and out of your life before you have a chance to get sick of it.

• The supernatural action starts happening awfully quickly here, barely waiting for the establishing shots to end. I rewatched the original though, and the same thing happens there. Carol Anne begins communicating with the ghosts around the ten minute mark.

• The cast does the best they can with what they have to work with, especially Sam Rockwell as Eric, the patriarch of the Bowen Clan. He brings a much-needed sense of levity to the early scenes in an effort to make us care what happens to these people.

Jared Harris plays ghost hunter Carrigan Burke, who comes off as a low-rent Mad-Eye Moody (complete with supernatural war wounds) from the Harry Potter films. Unfortunately he's a poor substitute for the diminutive and memorable Tangina Barrens of the original film. 

Burke is supposed to be a no-nonsense, take-charge ghost hunter who's there to save the day. Unfortunately the fact that he's also the host of a cable TV ghost hunter show makes him seem like a charlatan (in my eyes at least). 

The film seems like it's trying to add a few new elements to the mix, but sadly never really does anything with them. The script tells us that Eric's been downsized from his job at John Deere and is having trouble finding work, while aspiring writer Amy's too busy being a mother to work on her Great American Novel. It's even implied that Eric may be drinking a little too much. Unfortunately all these subplots are all promptly dropped forever once the supernatural shenanigans start.

• Several times in the film we're told that the Bowens are strapped for cash and their new home is a step down for them. It's also located in a less than desirable neighborhood. However, none of this is visible onscreen. It looks like a perfectly acceptable middle class home in a middle class neighborhood.

By the way, if both Eric and Amy are out of work as we're told, how the hell are they able to buy a new house in the first place? Do banks routinely hand out home loans to people who are unemployed? I'm guessing no. No they do not.

• At one point Eric decides to pour himself a little afternoon drink in the kitchen. The ghosts then cause him to hallucinate that his face is melting off. Once he snaps back to normal, he pours the rest of the bottle down the drainI was very disappointed that he didn't say, "Not another drop!" as he did so.

• Not really a problem, just an observation: In the original film, the parents were seen smoking pot in their bedroom, in a time when such a thing was illegal. Now marijuana is legal in many states, but these parents just get drunk. Has marijuana lost its allure now that it's (mostly) legal?

• The Bowen's youngest daughter is named Madison, because of course she is. She's played by actress Kennedi Clements. Kennedi. With an "i."

I've read that in Germany parents have to submit their child's name to a special board for approval. I'm starting to think they have the right idea.

• Both versions of the film feature creepy clown dolls that come to life and attack the middle child. In the original film I wondered why young Robbie would own such an ugly, unsettling clown doll if he was afraid of it. This new version tries to explain that, by having Griffin find a box of moldy old clown toys in a forgotten attic room.

I'll give them an E for effort, but they still don't explain why anyone in their right mind would manufacture such a hideous toy in the first place. Even if a kid wasn't terrified of clowns, it's still ugly and off-putting. Who'd ever want such a thing?

• The remake offers one (and only one) improvement over the original— this time we actually get to see what's inside the closet portal.

The Bowens fly Griffin's camera-equipped remote control drone into the void, and we see it appears to be a tunnel lined with thousands of writhing, moaning corpses. Cool!

• In the original film, Dianne Freeling's maternal instinct outweighs her fear of the unknown, as she willingly enters the void to rescue her daughter. It's a memorable moment and a perfect example of a mother doing whatever's necessary to rescue her child. Here mother Amy Bowen is robbed of the chance to demonstrate her courage as her son leaps into the void while the adults stand around arguing about it.

I know, I know, I've been ranting that the remake doesn't do enough different, and then when it does change something I complain. But this is an element that really needed to stay the same.

• The biggest goof in the film: the static-filled hi-def TV screen. I know why it's there— the snowy screens were a huge part of the original film. Unfortunately modern TVs don't display static like old-school picture tube sets. When there's nothing on a particular channel, my set simply goes black and displays a "No Signal" message. A snow-filled TV screen is a relic of the past that kids today will never experience.

I suppose we could be generous here and say the ghosts are responsible for the snowy screens. I suppose we could say that, but...

• At the very end of the film, a real estate agent is showing the Bowens a new home. They reject it because it has a number of large closets and a large tree near the house. OK, I get the joke, but if they're gonna reject every house they see based on those criteria, they're gonna have a tough time ahead. Perhaps somewhere out there is a house with absolutely no closet space and a barren, lifeless hellscape of a yard, but I doubt it.

Poltergeist (2015) is, like most remakes, completely unnecessary and has little or nothing new to offer. I'm giving it a rare double score. If you've not seen the original film, this one is a somewhat reasonable facsimile, and I give it a B-. If you've seen the 1982 version, skip this remake. I give it a C.

1 comment:

  1. Skipping this version for a number of reasons. One of which is that christing clown doll in the first one scared years off me.

    ReplyDelete

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