By Paula R. Stiles
Poltergeist 3D (2015). Director: Gil Kenan. Cast: Sam Rockwell, Rosemarie DeWitt, Kennedi Clements. Country: USA.
After both parents are downsized at their jobs, a typically bland all-American family of five moves into a brand-new house in a brand-new development, only to discover it’s already occupied by angry ghosts that promply kidnap the youngest daughter. Who is psychic. Or something.
You know, normally, I like both Sam Raimi and Steven Spielberg. Despite their faults, they understand scifi, fantasy and horror. They made their bones on horror and, like Alfred Hitchcock, never entirely left it behind. I respect that.
That they were both involved with this piece of boring dreck is only one of many disappointments about the entirely unnecessary remake/reboot of 80s horror classic Poltergeist (and yes, I know Spielberg was involved in the original. That doesn’t help). Mind you, I was never a huge fan of the original. I’m not even sure I’ve watched it all the way through, though I did catch one of the sequels in which the medium character, Tangina, was heavily involved. I have no idea why they replaced her with some random British dude in this one.
I’m sure the connection between this franchise and the Twilight Zone episode “Little Girl Lost” (i.e., that it ripped off the main idea and then de-Lovecrafted it) has been chewed over many times. Unfortunately, since I’ve seen that episode, I can’t say I find the concept especially scary, even in the original film. And folks, this ain’t the original. Not by a long shot.
The best thing about the original film, as I recall, was the cast (as well as some of the scares, particularly to do with that cursed television set, which is not at all scary in the remake). Carol Anne was appropriately creepy, and the rest of her family was scrappy and seemed like a real family of people who loved each other. Sure, the whole “Carol Anne is psychic! Isn’t she special?” thing was annoying, but the late Heather O’Rourke gave off an otherworldly vibe that made it work.
Welp, I couldn’t wait for the ghosts to eat the family in this one and the only remotely scary sequence (the initial attack on the kids while the parents are at the neighbors’ house) proved a letdown when I realized nobody was actually going to die. The only sympathetic character is the middle child, a son, and everybody ignores him. The mom is a dip. Dad is what the son has to look forward to. The teenage daughter is totally self-absorbed. And the little girl is … well, I just didn’t care that she was psychic, since she came off as rather dim, even for her age.
That the writers inexplicably changed her name to the bleah “Madison” didn’t help. It’s yet another example of how the entire original script was turned into oatmeal, starting with the “built a housing development on an old Indian burial ground, only sort-of-not-really” cliche being turned even blander (and patently impossible, thanks to local laws and modern health regulations) by just having it be a recent city cemetery (you know, where there would be plenty of living relatives left in the area to complain and sue) where the headstones were moved, but the bodies weren’t. Which just wouldn’t happen, especially since everybody in the friggin’ neighborhood knows about it.
Let’s talk a bit about the 3D, which is, at least initially, the most successful part of the film. If you’re going to bother to see this and you want to be remotely entertained or creeped out, check out a matinee and then pony up the extra for the 3D version. The stuff with the initial attack and the clown toys and the trees and such is more effective than in 2D because Kenan takes some time early in the film to do some things with depth and objects whipping in and out of field.
Unfortunately, this levels off after the attack. Plus, there are some moments where someone just pops into frame out of nowhere and it’s like, “Whoa! Unintended scare!” In addition, there are a few scenes, particularly later on, where you’ve got closeups between two people in different depths of field and they look like cutouts against a background. It’s pretty obvious and waters down the realism of the 3D quite a bit.
I thought this was too bad, since the beginning was promising, though the titles are bland. Let’s face it — aside from a very few films like Avatar or My Bloody Valentine 3D, nobody’s been rushing out to actually do anything interesting, experimental, or even original (which you’d think wouldn’t be that hard, considering how new the tech still is) with 3D. It’s a craze, but it’s a craze that still awaits its Hitchcock.
And don’t get your hopes up about those ominous high-voltage power lines from the title credits. They just sit there and look menacing. They have nothing to do with the story.
The most unintentionally hilarious moment comes at the very end, when the family is seeking a new house. A young real estate agent introduces them to a perfectly nice historic home, but they bolt at the word “closets” and the mention that it’s old. What’s funny is that the poltergeist house is barely two years old and such a piece of crap that it’s no wonder the ghosts kept trying to rip it apart. You’d think an older house with no ghosts would be dowright immunized in comparison.
Don’t see this. C’mon, there’s got to be something else you can check out that will be less a waste of your time. Go see Mad Max again, if you have to.