This remake of a classic is [long pause] passable

FILM by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Galaxy, Southland
2 out of 5

Let’s be clear right from the start: 1982’s Poltergeist was a wonderful horror movie. 2015’s version is not.

But let’s also be fair — unlike so many other tepid to terrible horror remakes, updating Poltergeist was far from a bad idea. It was definitely a movie that could benefit from modern gadgetry, and which could also work with updated social concerns.

Sadly, this Sam Raimi-produced remake is a half-baked one. There’s an effort to update both present concerns and poignancy by introducing issues like the mortgage crisis and the high unemployment rate in the U.S., but both end up amounting to nothing as the film settles into predictable grooves.

It’s not that Poltergeist 2015 is as bad as its lack of promotion by the studio suggests, however; it’s just… decent, which is a fairly damning thing to say about any horror movie, much less one based on a film as iconic as this is.

After getting laid off from his job, Eric Bowen and his young family are forced to relocate to a cheaper home, in a rundown development near an electric plant. The area is pretty desolate for a suburb, due to multiple foreclosures.

That sucks — and then things escalate from uncomfortable to scary very quickly. The neighbourhood was built on top of a burial ground, and the Bowens’ house is a portal to it.

Unfortunately for the family, the younger daughter can communicate with the dead — and they badly want her to guide them out of purgatory.

There are some immediately noticeable cosmetic changes from the original: the cemetery is no longer an indigenous one, and all the family names have been changed (likely due to the unfortunate events that surrounded the original cast, including two untimely deaths). Yet the movie doesn’t have the nerve to give the new story its own rendering.

Rather than up the ante, this new Poltergeist doesn’t come up with new scares, it merely remixes the old ones (dead bodies floating back to the surface) or just multiplies them. In the original there was a single, unassuming clown doll that was unbelievably creepy. Now there are four terrifying-looking ones, and they’re a bit ho-hum. It’s hit and miss, overall.

But director Gil Kenan (Monster House) does get a couple of things right. The adult Bowens are suitably fed up and not all that great at parenting, yet they’re very much into each other, and Sam Rockwell (Moon) and Rosemarie DeWitt (Rachel Getting Married) fully inhabit their roles, in spite of being written as stock characters. The kids are too cute by half, and while the little girl lacks Heather O’Rourke’s haunting quality, the middle child makes up for it.

The movie remains on track until the last third, when the mandatory paranormal investigators show up. (The Bowens sidestep calling the cops.) The perennially misused Jared Harris (Mad Men) doesn’t seem particularly invested and his team is completely forgettable.

As per usual, the 3-D factor adds very little to the proceedings and the gimmick alone doesn’t justify the remake. Since the original, there have been so many Poltergeist knock-offs (The Conjuring, Insidious, Sinister, to name just a few recent ones) that there’s no way this effort could feel fresh. Luckily, the tale remains entertaining — so while the remake won’t be memorable, there’s a good time to be had here.

Maybe not good enough to pay to see it in theatres, though.