Scary? Yes. Tension producing? Yes. Mysterious? A little. Poltergeist is even funny at times. I’m not a big fan of the genre, and did not see the four previous versions (and since this is the fifth, I seriously doubt there is much in it that is original), but taken on its own merits and disregarding the others, I found it to be a pretty decent rendition of a horror film.
It starts out in a rather glum tone because the father, Eric Bowen (Rockwell) has just been laid off his executive level job, so the family must settle on a lower grade house in a new community. Parents Eric and Amy (DeWitt) are putting a good face on it for their kids, Kendra, Griffin and Madison, but it’s clear that adjustments will have to be made with some effort. Maddy starts to feel right at home almost from the get-go, and even seems to be making friends. That is, she is talking to someone, but only Griffin notices, and he dismisses it as her simply being imaginative, and says she needs to get a better grip on reality.
Griffin is known to be “sensitive”, so he starts complaining right away about bumps in the night, a weird clown left behind by the previous tenants in his closet, and the skylight on the roof of his bedroom showing trees swaying menacingly even when it isn’t stormy, and when it does become stormy…oh my! Others in the family start to notice a few things, like static electricity on the stair banister, lights coming on in the middle of the night, strange noises, etc. But things really get hairy when the parents go out to dinner (in hopes of new job prospects for Erik) and leave Kendra to babysit. During the evening, her treasured possession, cell phone, starts doing wonky things, which prompts her to start filming with it, and she ends up witnessing the floor starting to crack as if there were an earthquake, and horrible black gunk arising out of it.
The parents are so horrified to learn about this when they come home, they consult paranormal experts (Erik worries that if they call the police, they’ll be seen as psychotic and their kids taken away), who do indeed grasp what is happening, and when they realize how serious things are, call in the nationally known expert, Carrigan Burke (Harris). He not only has the academic credentials, but he has scars to prove his entanglements with spirits. By this time, Maddy is missing, and the family is distraught. Will he be able to bring Maddy back? And if he does, at what cost?
I jumped and held onto my seat during the course of Poltergeist, and apparently most of the audience did too, from what I could hear. It seems to me that Director Gil Kenan, screenwriters David Lindsay-Abaire and Steven Spielberg, and cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe have delivered on their aims of making an interesting, exciting, scary production. Sam Rockwell and Rosemarie DeWitt are two of my favorite actors, and they easily step into their roles here. Most impressive is Jared Harris, whose performance in a myriad of different roles, attests to his ability to provide gravitas and mysteriousness in his role here as “the fixer.”
But I have to ask, “Why was this film made?” Is it to appeal to those who are interested in this genre and love seeing the same film over and over again (thus being a money making project)? What did Spielberg think he could add in making another poltergeist film? We don’t need to do away with the past; let the viewers watch the older films—that are probably just as good—and make room for creative films that will advance the industry.
Scary—but apparently not new.
Grade: C By Donna R. Copeland