Friday, May 22, 2015

'Poltergeist' review

Horror remakes have to be some of the most despised projects in Hollywood. Critics and fans often hate it when new filmmakers take on classics, and I can't give you too many instances where a remake has worked out well. Poltergeist will not start a new trend. While the final twenty minutes hint at an action/horror hybrid that could have been much more entertaining, Poltergeist is still fairly stuck within the confines of the haunted house genre. Down on their luck family, weird kids, spooky house- you know the deal here. Mix that with a bunch of terrible CGI and the fact that this film doesn't have any genuine scares and Poltergeist falls firmly into bland, tedious territory. Sam Rockwell is solid and Jared Harris comes close to saving the movie at the end, but Poltergeist still isn't worth your time.

Eric Bowen (Rockwell) was a successful businessman who worked for John Deere Corporate at one point, but now, he's lost his job and is being forced to move into a middle class neighborhood with his family. His wife, Amy (Rosemarie DeWitt), wants to make the best of the situation and his youngest daughter, Madison, (Kennedi Clements) loves the new house, but his other two kids- Kendra and Griffin (Saxon Sharbino and Kyle Catlett)- are not so pleased. Kendra's the typical angsty teenager, while Griffin is scared of pretty much everything. However, Griffin might actually be on to something, as the Bowens' new house is actually occupied by some really angry spirits. Madison gets captured by the poltergeist in the house, and in desperation, the Bowens call on a group of paranormal investigators, led by Carrigan Burke (Jared Harris), to find Madison and stop the poltergeist from ever harming their family again.

There are numerous problems with this movie. But Poltergeist's biggest downfall is that it isn't scary, or even creepy. The jump scares are obvious and the film's reliance on CGI effects and haunted house cliches becomes tiresome after a while. Poltergeist can't escape the fact that it's basically a less interesting version of The Conjuring, and with a PG-13 rating, there's simply not much that this movie can do to be compelling as a horror film. But as a horror action hybrid, similar to things that director Gil Kenan has done in the past, I feel like this would have been a much better movie.

Kenan directed 2006's Monster House, which is a movie that I haven't watched in ages, but I remember it being one of my favorite films at the time. It was a creepy, fun ride and that's what I wanted Poltergeist to be. And there are flashes of that. Although the final 20 minutes rely way too much on some of the worst CGI I've seen in decades, the film becomes creepily fun and I was quite enjoying myself. I also liked the retro suburban vibe that the film gave off, and it felt similar to what Kenan did with Monster House. But those flashes are few and far between compared to the ridiculous amount of horror cliches thrown at us throughout this film's 93 minute runtime.

I thought Kenan did an okay job directing this film, but I thought the script by David Lindsay-Abaire was horrible. All of the characters (except for Maddie) have some sort of despicable flaw that makes it really hard to like them. Besides the fact that they're living on top of a cemetery, the Bowen family's house is not all that bad. It's a nice, middle-class house, but throughout the entire movie, all they do is complain about how it sucks and how their life is terrible and it just goes on and on and on. They just come off as spoiled brats and it makes them sorta unlikable.

Let's talk about the kids in this movie. Maddie is tolerable- high energy and still cliched, but I liked her the most. Griffin is the typical weird horror movie kid. You take one look at this kid, and you can immediately tell that he's gonna be the first one to notice something wrong. And Kendra is just a spoiled brat, the typical angry teenager type. None of them are particularly compelling, but I will say that even though I didn't like Griffin, he does at least have an arc of some sorts and that was effective.

The dramatic burden of this movie falls on the adult actors- Rockwell, DeWitt and Harris. The former two are solid, never doing anything to wow me but serving their purpose. But when Harris comes in, he comes close to saving the whole movie. He just gives the whole thing an air of credibility that feels missing from the rest of the film. He only has maybe fifteen minutes of screen time, but those fifteen minutes are by far the most enjoyable in the film. Why the screenwriters decided to bring a different group of paranormal investigators in before bringing in Harris' character is beyond me.

But unfortunately, even Harris can't save Poltergeist from mediocrity. Whatever upside he brings to the film, the atrocious CGI takes it right away. There wasn't a single convincing special effect in this movie and it all appeared to be rushed and ill-conceived. The ghosts are just skeletal blobs and the big action scenes don't even look realistic at all. It's also obvious that the filmmakers know that the visual effects are bad. The scenes are done with quick editing and camera motions that are meant to distract you from what's actually on screen. The dimension where the poltergeist lives has to be one of the most fake CGI worlds in recent memory, and that's why they only go in there with this stupid little drone thing that feels totally out of place. With more practical effects and low-budget scares, we could have seen a better movie.

Poltergeist isn't a terrible film. I've seen worse this year and there are moments where I genuinely enjoyed myself. But by playing it safe and going the usual haunted house route, the film ends up being dull, tedious and just unenjoyable in general. Harris and Rockwell are a good team, but a lack of scares, poor character development and bad CGI bring Poltergeist right back down to Earth. I was never invested, interested or fascinated by what was going on in the film. And the fact that there was the potential for something better makes me even more sad.

THE FINAL GRADE:  C                                              (5.5/10)

Image Credits: Hollywood Reporter, Screen Rant, Variety, The Dissolve, JoBlo

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