Movie Review: ‘POLTERGEIST’ – Isn’t This Supposed To Be A Horror Film?


Cole Clay // Film Critic

POLTERGEIST | 93 min | Rated PG-13
Director: Gil Kenan
Cast: Sam Rockwell, Rosemarie DeWitt, Kennedi Clements, Saxon Sharbino, Kyle Catlett, Jared Harris and Jane Adams

POLTERGEIST has a lot of elements stacking up against its release. The first being, it has to follow the circus like spectacle of MAD MAX: FURY ROAD. The second is a little more obvious, it’s a remake and very few people tend to go for a remake. And lastly, it doesn’t have any star power. Sure, Sam Rockwell (LAGGIES) and Rosemarie Dewitt (MY SISTER’S SISTER) are finely tuned performers, but outside of the film-buff community, their names may not resonate.

But, this rehash from the past isn’t as insufferable as one may think, but it’s also not very good. Eric (Rockwell) and Amy (Rosemarie Dewitt) Bowen, along with their three kiddos (Shaxon Sharbino, Kyle Catlett and Kennidi Clements) find themselves down on their luck financially and move into a real cheap house. But what they saved on their mortgage rate could cost them their lives. Sound spooky yet? It’s not.

Rockwell brings the charm that we have come to know and love over the past 20 years. He is the beating heart of a family and always has the right thing to say at every moment, but he can’t pay the bills due to recent lay offs. This may be the first time that Rockwell has been so good in a movie that it undercuts the entire point of the film. Let me explain: POLTERGEIST just isn’t scary. For the entire duration of the film I was hoping our pal Sam would just say something quippy and everything would be alright. Hell, it worked in THE WAY WAY BACK; why not in a cash grab remake. The humor and the horror never can strike a balance that a true master of horror, such as John Landis (AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON) or Sam Raimi (THE EVIL DEAD TRILOGY), could accomplish.

the cast of Poltergeist (photo courtesy of MGM Studios)

The cast of Poltergeist. Photo courtesy of MGM Studios.

The plot thickens when the youngest child, Madison (Clements), is taken to another dimension occupied by the infamous poltergeist. In order to get her back from the other side they contact a local college that has a Department of Paranormal Research led by Dr. Brooke Powell (played by the always welcome Jane Adams). Not only is a local city college having a paranormal research division ridiculous, they apparently have a massive budget. Dr. Powell and her two understudies (Nicholas Braun and Susan Heyward) come fully stocked with heat sensors, high-tech GPS equipment and (for good measure, let’s just say they have) an ectoplasm detector.

All the while, the Bowens don’t seem to be very scared of the situation. They show remorse and realize there is a threat, but inconsolable wreck would have been a proper hat to wear for this situation. To the credit of director Gil Kenan (MONSTER HOUSE) and screenwriter David Lindsay-Abaire (RISE OF THE GUARDIANS), they provide just a twinge capitalist commentary by way of Boyd (Braun), one Dr. Powell’s underlings. He tries to entice one of the Bowen children to exploit this ghastly situation by provoking them to make a few television appearances. He is quickly taught a lesson by a pissed off ghost with an electric drill. This scene and Rockwell’s dynamite delivery show that this film isn’t a total dud, but Kenan just can’t quite get the job done.

Enter celebrity paranormal exterminator Carrigan Burke (Jared Harris), who comes into clean the house of all the spirits. Once again, another solid performer with chops laid to waste.

Kenan doesn’t have a lot of reverence for Tobe Hooper’s (THE TEXAS CHANSAW MASSACRE, 1974) original tale of haunted house hell. He does employ a few good editing decisions; namely, in the scene where a mechanical clown doll comes to life.

What I believe POLTERGEIST is truly lacking is the macabre and erratic behavior that made the 1980s a golden age in horror. Give us something inspired; audiences deserve that at the very least. This CG filled spook-fest is a dish best served from the comfort of your own living room.

POLTERGEIST opens nationwide today.

About author

James C. Clay

James Cole Clay has been working as a film critic for the better part of a decade covering new releases, blu ray reviews and the occasional drive-in cult classic. His writing is dedicated to discovering social politics through diverse voices, primarily focusing on Women In Film and LGBTQ cinema.