As one who absolutely cherishes his memory of witnessing the first Poltergeist in theaters, it was with great pause that we headed into the theater to witness the remake from director Gil Kenan. But, you can imagine our surprise as the lights went dark and the screen lit up with the images of a family grappling with the presence of a poltergeist in their home, that we actually found ourselves getting sucked into the terrifying tale anew.
That speaks volumes about the idea first hatched by Steven Spielberg in the early '80s. Poltergeist is a family story. They come together to face the most unthinkable of challenges when their youngest daughter is taken from them by spirits who simply want to get to the other side. Its universal themes are equally as resonant decades later. And like so many stage plays that get reproduced dozens and dozens of times over the years, why can't the same rules apply to cinema? If done right, we argue certain stories can stand the test of time and be remade.
Sam Rockwell (Seven Psychopaths) and Rosemarie DeWitt (Kill the Messenger) star as parents of three children -- a teenager Kendra (Saxon Sharbino), a young boy Griffin (Kyle Catlett) and a little girl Mattie (Kennedi Clements). Economic circumstances have forced them to move into a home in a development that has weathered the foreclosure storm and is only starting to come back.
Strange happenings start almost immediately. Mattie and Griffin notice it first. The fact that Griffin is scared of just about everything does not help matters. But, what is fascinating is that Kenan and screenwriter David Lindsay-Abaire have made Poltergeist 2015 Griffin’s story and it is through his eyes (mostly) that this story evolves.
Many of the terrors from the original film that still haunt our dreams are present in this film. Whereas the first film had the one doll that terrorized the little boy, this time we have several (as teased in the Poltergeist trailer). The tree still does its thing! But, there is enough originality tossed in to put this remake in the surprisingly warranted department.
Poltergeist grabbed us from the early moments and did not let us go until the thrilling conclusion. And might we say, something that is improved on the original is the ending. Where the first film found parents Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams enduring one more night of horrors after we thought things were over, this time out, it is much more fluid and therefore even more frightening.
Our Poltergeist review also has to point out that Jared Harris shines as Carrigan Burke, the supernatural expert who comes to make the family’s house “clean.” Whereas in the first film, the character was a short, stocky woman, this time out Harris’ ghostbuster is a larger-than-life reality TV star who seems truly humbled by what appears to be his biggest career challenge.
And then there’s Catlett. What a face. What a talent! Look out for this kid, he gives Poltergeist its heart, soul and, yes, even its chills.