Movie Review: Poltergeist remake kills the best of the original

 Kennedi Clements (above) puts on a good performance as the solemn child with a goofy side.
Kennedi Clements (above) puts on a good performance as the solemn child with a goofy side.PHOTO: TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX

Remade from the 1982 hit, this film is a pale shadow of the older, better one

  • Review Horror
  • POLTERGEIST (PG13)

    94 minutes/now showing/(2/5 stars)The story: Eric Bowen (Sam Rockwell), laid off from his job, moves into a new home with wife Amy (Rosemarie DeWitt), daughters Kendra (Saxon Sharbino) and Madison (Kennedi Clements) and son Griffin (Kyle Catlett). Almost immediately, the young children see and hear bizarre events, while the adults remain oblivious. But supernatural happenings soon require the presence of television star and paranormal expert Brooke Powell (Jared Harris). A remake of the 1982 horror hit.

If there was ever a time to ask this question, the time would be now: Why does this movie exist?

The simple and depressing answer would be that enough time has passed for a new generation to have never heard of the original.

Time to dust off the script, sprinkle a few nods to the times (drones, GPS trackers, a paranormal investigation reality show) and hope that the formula works just as well the second time around.

Things do work here and there. There is a timeless creepiness to the idea that very young children have one foot in another plane of reality, for example.

Maddy's (Clements) behaviour can be seen as either being cutely typical of her age - having imaginary friends, not being able to distinguish fantasy from reality - or, given the right camera angles and soundtrack, look frighteningly bizarre.

Director Gil Kenan (City Of Ember, 2008) understands and repeats those ideas well.

Clements' naturalistic performance is another highlight. Like Heather O'Rourke in the first movie, Clements is very good as the solemn child with a goofy side.

Three decades ago, producer and co-writer Steven Spielberg saw that and, with director Tobe Hooper, turned in a movie that was one part fairy tale of parental self-sacrifice, and one part high- octane adventure story.

Here, the first idea, that parents will literally walk into Hell for their children is put on starvation rations, while the second is pumped to bursting.

Most of the time is spent on scare jumps, making the soundtrack go bang to make viewers leap off their chairs and depicting in full the demonic astral plane, hidden in the first movie.

The rest of the time is spent on clever references to the original, such as putting the catchphrase "This house is clean" into the mouth of the occult reality show star Powell (Harris).

It is as if the makers are saying that a few references here and there makes this an homage, not a ripoff. They are incorrect.

This movie, like the house in its centre, sits on a cemetery of an older, better movie, and is in complete denial of the fact.

johnlui@sph.com.sg

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 19, 2015, with the headline 'Horror of the ripoff film'. Print Edition | Subscribe