We are swimming in an endless sea of film remakes, sequels, and books coming to life. It seems that big studios are afraid in invest in original work unless these movies are penned, produced, and funded by highly successful filmmakers themselves. Two good example being Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim and J.J. Abrams Super 8.
When dealing with remakes in particular, especially when a new generation of filmmaker is attempting to take on a beloved masterpiece, it can feel almost like a personal violation when they get it wrong. The movies we grow up watching, those that span generations, and those that our culture adopts as iconic, are like fond memories, or as I prefer to think of them, the Aesop Fables of our time. They are important to our lives and part of our humanity as a whole. Pardon me if I get a little existential, but Joseph Campbell invested his time well when he spent his career studying the philosophy of mythology in human culture and I’d argue that these memorable classics are the mythology of modern man.
So when Gil Kenan, a director with only two films under his belt, gets on board to remake a solid rock of a horror movie as influential as Steven Spielberg/Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist, you can’t help but get a little nervous. Now, that’s not to say that I didn’t like Monster House. Truly, it was fantastic, but let’s be honest, City of Ember was iffy. It was pretty for sure, and had strong moments, but as a whole it wasn’t Monster House quality.
I’m happy to report that Kenan does a decent job with Poltergeist. He manages to capture the exciting thrills and spooky feel of the first incarnation without taking away the wonder and fun that make both these films so enjoyable. Indulge me when I compare it to a new kitchen appliance. It gets the same job done and tells a very similar story, but now it’s updated to the culture and technology of our times. It’s almost like an upgrade of sorts. However, I will still argue that the original is stronger in many ways, but enough about the classic, let’s get to Kenan’s creation!
Firstly, the best thing about this movie is the writing. All of which is completely believable, particularly the interpersonal conversations between central characters before the poltergeist begins to fully manifest. This isn’t easy to pull off when you are dealing with the intimacies of interfamily dialogue. Many movies let the writing get a little too quaint and cliché. Here we get a honest script of a family in modern times working through stress due to financial problems, The writing for each part matches the character’s age, gender, and psychological state beautifully. It also helps that the script is flawlessly executed by a fantastic cast.
Although everybody is good in their individual roles, the movie highlights Sam Rockwell, playing Eric Bowen, the father/husband part, and Kyle Catlett, who plays the family’s middle child and only son, Griffin. Sam, as always, effortlessly delivers, this time with the masculine pathos of a regular guy who is struggling to provide for his family. He’s playful and present in the lives of his wife and kids, but we see the creeping stress of being laid off just starting to take its toll on his ego and mental state. Of course, it’s quickly put into perspective when the supernatural shit hits the fan, and I like that this kind of reboots his character. Kyle, delivers a wonderful performance as the son, who is naturally more fearful and insecure than his sisters. He offers us a nice little character arc as he steps up in his role as a protective older brother to his little sister, Maddie. I really love how Kenan plays on the natural spectrum of fear and courage in children of different stages of development. Kendra, the spitfire teenager, played by the beautiful Saxon Sharbino and Maddie, the six-year-old snuggle-bug played by Kennedi Clements, each handle their terrifying moments exactly as you would expect children of their perspective ages to deal with their experiences. Again, writing in this film really ties it together.
Now, as a hardcore fan of horror movies, I will not spoil the scary parts and the thrilling spectacle of the movie. Those were created by the filmmakers for you to experience, not for some chick on her laptop to reveal, but I will say this, they are FUN! Kenan crafts some spine-tingling homages to the original while seamlessly working in some new and updated scares. Things get a little creepy early on but they get crazy fun half way through the second act. It’s almost like a horror variety show, each of the characters experience a completely different form of phenomenon and tone to their scares. It’s akin to individual customized hauntings for each person in the movie, except for the mom, played by Rosemarie DeWitt. The film doesn’t mess with her too much. I wonder if a scene was cut, or something. She’s still good in it, so….*shrug*.
Another strong point is that the director doesn’t use the same-old, open-the-door-see-nothing-close-the-door-suddenly-theres-a-ghost/monster gags. Kenan breaks away from the mundane and cliché of horror cinematography to offer us a fresh perspective and thrilling ride. The pacing is satisfying and never drags. Kenan doesn’t use time or slow panning as a mechanism to increase tension. This isn’t a serious, pee-your-pants horror film. It has no gore or heavy undertones to drag the audience down. It’s effective in getting your heart racing, but you won’t be biting your nails from a tense atmosphere.
While I yearn for new and fabulous horror movies to hit the silver screen, I was happily entertained and pleased with this movie. I know that many people of a younger generation will experience it as their first encounter with the story, and there is some twinge of regret in the thought. However, Kenan does a great job in refreshing the tale and showing us more of his obvious talent. If you are looking for a fun and scary movie that won’t make you want to cut your wrists or fear walking home alone, this one is top notch! Thank you, Mr. Kenan, for a lovely time!
Thanks for reading,
Diva Del Mar