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.
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.
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