Poltergeist

Poltergeist (2015, Gil Kenan)

It’s hard to imagine Poltergeist being any better. Even if director Kenan was any good, there’d still be David Lindsay-Abaire’s atrocious screenplay, and even if both those elements were any good, there’d still be the acting. And even if the acting was better–and a better script would probably help on that front–there’d just the photography and editing and music.

Poltergeist is so broken, there’s just no point in fixing it.

There’s no point in talking about Kenan at length. He’s bad with actors, he can’t make scary scenes, he can’t compose a shot. Without a major gimmick, there’s no point for a Poltergeist remake and Kenan’s got nothing. Unless the producers thought the problem with the original was it was too good so they figured out a way to make it bad (Lindsay-Abaire’s script plays like a truncated version of the original).

Are any of the actors good? No. Jane Adams is odd comic relief; in some ways, Jared Harris is the best as the celebrity ghost hunter just because he’s not so obviously phoning it in. Though it’s possible the reason Sam Rockwell and Rosemarie DeWitt’s performances are so mediocre is because they could never figure out what Kenan was doing with the camera.

The film makes Rockwell and DeWitt’s son, Kyle Catlett, the ostensible protagonist. Except the film doesn’t seem to understand how protagonists work. Because it’s so inept.

Poltergeist is too incompetent a film to be a cynical remake. It’s actually rather pitiable.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Gil Kenan; screenplay by David Lindsay-Abaire, based on a story by Steven Spielberg; director of photography, Javier Aguirresarobe; edited by Bob Murawski and Jeff Betancourt; music by Marc Streitenfeld; production designer, Kalina Ivanov; produced by Sam Raimi, Robert G. Tapert, Nathan Kahane and Roy Lee; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Sam Rockwell (Eric Bowen), Rosemarie DeWitt (Amy Bowen), Jared Harris (Carrigan Burke), Jane Adams (Dr. Powell), Saxon Sharbino (Kendra), Kyle Catlett (Griffin), Nicholas Braun (Boyd), Susan Heyward (Sophie) and Kennedi Clements (Madison).


Poltergeist (1982, Tobe Hooper)

In a practical sense, one can just watch Poltergeist and be in awe of the technical qualities. Hooper’s Panavision composition and Matthew F. Leonetti’s photography alone are enough to make it a singular experience. But then there are Hooper’s additional touches–like how a scene’s establishing shot is usually the third shot in the scene, the first two being close-ups or reaction shots. Or the strobe effect. Or the eerie movement, which is probably the most famous Poltergeist visual.

But then there’s the script. Screenwriters Steven Spielberg, Michael Grais and Mark Victor are not big on exposition. In fact, the entire familial relationship at the center of Poltergeist is mostly inferred. One of the film’s obvious “goofs” involves JoBeth Williams only being sixteen years older than daughter Dominique Dunne makes a lot more sense if one assumes Williams is her stepmother. The dialogue–and Dunne’s behavior–even suggests it. But the film is full of those discrete little moments… the filmmakers put an incredible amount of trust in the viewer.

The acting is all excellent. Dunne, in the smallest family role, probably gives the film’s best performance. After her, it’s Craig T. Nelson as the dad, then Williams. These three are absolutely fantastic.

The other kids, Heather O’Rourke and Oliver Robins, are both good.

In the supporting cast, Beatrice Straight is particularly exceptional.

While Jerry Goldsmith’s score is derivative of his other work, it ties the film together quite well.

Poltergeist is great. It’s surprisingly deep and technically magnificent.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Tobe Hooper; screenplay by Steven Spielberg, Michael Grais and Mark Victor, based on a story by Spielberg; director of photography, Matthew F. Leonetti; edited by Michael Kahn; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, James H. Spencer; produced by Spielberg and Frank Marshall; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Craig T. Nelson (Steve Freeling), JoBeth Williams (Diane Freeling), Heather O’Rourke (Carol Anne Freeling), Dominique Dunne (Dana Freeling), Oliver Robins (Robbie Freeling), Zelda Rubinstein (Tangina), Martin Casella (Marty), Richard Lawson (Ryan), James Karen (Mr. Teague) and Beatrice Straight (Dr. Lesh).


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