Poltergeist (2015) Review

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Screw this movie. I’m giving you the heads up now, to let you know what you’re in for if you’re reading this. I’m going to spoil the shit out of this. I’m going to spoil parts of the original film. And hopefully, in my tearing and gnashing and ripping, we can all learn the true meaning of friendship…okay, we’ll learn how not to make a shitty movie.

In case you didn’t have a childhood, Poltergiest (1982) was about the Freeling Family dealing with their young daughter’s abduction by a mob of evil spirits dwelling in their family home after the house was built over an Indian burial ground. It was a classic for iconic scenes involving a television set, face melting, toy clown assault, and invisible groping. It was also legendary for being one of the few horror films that was rated “PG.” Films like Poltergeist catapulted American audiences into the 21st Century for being the impetus of creating the beloved PG-13 rating to skirt that line between family-oriented horror and gore horror.

Nu-Poltergeist is an exercise in abstract BULLSHIT. More precisely, the film embodies everything wrong with modern day horror through a reliance on jump scares, musical stingers, and ripping scenes clean off the original. But the tragic stupidity of it all is that it lacks horror’s main ingredient: tension.

Okay okay. Let me breathe for a second, let me count to ten…ah. Okay, let’s break this down one by one, I’ll start with the obvious mistake in remaking a classic…or basically anything: copying scenes of the original.

A remake should not be a slave to an original film. It should not pay “lip service” to it’s source material. A remake should exist because the story is timeless and can be given new twists based on advanced technology, sociological climate, and good ingenuity. Great remakes like Scarface (of a 1930s gangster film), The Wizard of Oz (the Judy Garland film you love was Hollywood’s FOURTH attempt at bat), and The Departed (remake of a trilogy of Hong Kong films) take the original story and set forth in interesting new directions to explore different characters, themes, camera tricks, or even bringing the story to a different culture. See also several plays of William Shakespeare.

Shitty remakes, on the other hand, lick the sweat of it’s predecessors’ gonads to sustain itself in hopes of suckering a few people who loved the original. The 1998 remake of Psycho was a literal shot-for-shot recreation of the classic black-and-white film by Alfred Hitchcock utilizing only color and Vince Vaughn. Nothing else about was remarkable or interesting and was blasted away from the public conscious. The Omen (2006) did a similar act. Death Race (2008) once again copied imagery from its source to pay tribute and remind us a of a far, FAR better film.

And so it goes with this bullshit I’m looking at today. Poltergeist takes the tree attack scene, the clown doll attack scene, the levitation scene, even the bloody rope and recreates each and every one of them without any rhyme or reason besides “it existed in the original.” This pattern even goes for things that don’t make any sense. Take for instance Carol Ann approaching the static television as she whispers “they’re here” in the 1982 film. The scene is recreated exactly in Nu-Poltergeist…with a bloody flat screen, HD television. You know, televisions that CANNOT do the static thing anymore?!

The whole reason for the television scenes in the original was a sly commentary of the television seducing young children and adults back in the day of the early ’80s when shows became much more popular and attracted larger audiences. Family activities became built AROUND television sets. The “horror” factor comes from this ever important resource turning AGAINST a suburban family. But the meaning is completely lost in today’s social structures where people have built their lives and activities instead on personal computers, tablets, and phones.

For a second there, the remake started to go off in that direction by having the teenage daughter investigate a paranormal disturbance through the use of her iPhone. But then the film cries “BORED NOW” and has her attacked by a cement monster…no really, a monster of liquid cement grabs her leg. Or maybe it was a dead body. Who gives a shit? Not this movie for certain.

The copies keep coming with the face melting scene. See before a character started pulling apart his face in the original, it was a slow buildup of him coming home late from work and he started to make a nice little meal for himself to take his mind off the stress of work and the family complaints of a haunting in the house (that he has not witnessed yet). That is until he realizes a piece of steak he leaves out starts to crawl on its accord. Perplexed and thinking he’s seeing things, he starts washing his face when he notices something hanging off his face. It’s skin. He starts to tear. And tear. And tear. And tear until he’s screaming and he can’t stop and then he’s fine again…it was a hallucination…or at least he thinks it was. The whole scene is on YouTube and takes a good five minutes to watch.

Nu-Poltergeist’s version? Sam Rockwell (I’ll get to him later) pours himself some whiskey, then spits it out and sees his face bleeding and he wakes up from his hallucination…all with 75 seconds…that’s it. Just a bland re-enactment that serves no purpose but to copy the original face melting. Lazy, lazy, LAZY.

I could list more blatant copies, but I’ll be up all night doing that. There was something else I needed to talk about…

-Talk about the tension.

Thanks a lot, voice in my head.

-No worries, Chris. Don’t forget to burn that movie studio down.

All right. All right. Quit your nagging.

So yeah, TENSION. Alfred Hitchcock said it best, so I’m just going to blatantly copy him with an example in horror. When a monster or ghost or killer or whatever springs out of the closet to go “oogie boogie,” you’re just surprised and a little startled. You aren’t scared. You say you’re scared, but you’re not. You were just surprised for a momentary few seconds. No true horror is when you’re shown a monster. You see the monster creeping up on an unsuspecting victim, then it’s gone. The music becomes subdued again and the hero continues to move around while the monster creeps around. The hero continues to investigate for the monster’s whereabouts, while the monster creeps around as the music and atmosphere begin the BUILD UP. You know the monster is there with the hero, you’re clutching your breath because you FEAR the hero is in danger and there’s nothing can be done. THAT is horror. That’s how it’s done right in films like It Follows, Sinister, and the original Halloween.

Nu-Poltergeist has apparently never heard of the word “tension” or “build up” It only knows “fear” and it thinks what you “fear” is what you DON’T expect. But that’s not fear, that’s just being surprised and nothing further. So jump scares are littered in this bloody thing, snapping tension’s spine in half.

But maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if you gave one microgram of a shit about your characters. Sam Rockwell plays the patriarch of the family and he looks bloody BORED to be there. His daughter goes missing and he’s not panicked, or concerned, or scared. He’s calm as he tells his wife they can’t call the cops because no one would believe them. THAT’S not a human reaction, unless you’re a cold, emotionless sociopath. Even “tough” fathers would lose their shit if their kid went missing. They’d get angry or upset, or do fucking something! Rockwell fails to elicit any kind of emotion.

I hate to rag on Rockwell, but he’s the one aside from the little boy we spend any significant time with. And the little boy is essentially a Scooby Doo-level scardy cat. Sadly, the kid doesn’t have the charisma of memorable kids like Elliot from E.T. or Kevin from Home Alone to want to follow the little brat as he gets over his fear of basically everything in the world apart from dealing with supernatural horrors.

The rest of the cast are entirely forgettable. The only other cast member of note is that they replace the old, female medium from the original with a hard, old Irishman in this bullshit. The cast change isn’t significant at all and does nothing of import to the bloody story. A change done just to separate it from the original but only just.

Steven Spielberg composed the world and characters of the 1982 classic with his familiar tropes of a family starting off estranged and slowly coming back together to fight an otherworldly force. Even though he only got the producing credit for it, decades of rumors and behind-the-scenes whispers and straight up declarations from surviving actors have all but confirmed he was the driving force behind the original film. So if you’re going to touch something Spielberg made gold, then you damn better put some fucking effort into it!

My rant is done. You know where this is going if you followed my autopsy of this film. Nu-Poltergeist gets a big, smelly….

SOME OL’ BULLSHIT.

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