poltergeist-tv-shotThere was a certain amount of scepticism when the remake of Poltergeist was announced. The original was a much loved horror film that crossed over (so to speak) into the mainstream. It was directed by Tobe Hooper and featured a story from Hollywood royalty Steven Spielberg. The disquiet continued when the first trailer dropped and drew unfavourable comparisons with the original. So, to say that expectations were lowered would be an understatement.

The story itself is a reworking of the Spielberg tale. A family of five moves to a house in a large development. For economic reasons the family is downsizing and the house is a solution to some of their problems. Almost as soon as they arrive strange things begin to occur. There a couple of electrical disturbances and a lot of plants die just as they are planted. Discounting this and the odd creaks and groans of the house proves to be the wrong policy. While the parents are out for the evening, a dark presence appears and whisks off the youngest child to ‘the other side’. The parents have to rely on a group of paranormal investigators in order to find a way to get their child back.

I had a lot of fun with this film. I was one who was less than impressed with the publicity for the movie but the film won me over from almost the opening minute. It wastes no time in getting the tension raised with a scarce well constructed sequences. We get a quick introduction to the family dynamic and then get straight into the creepy bits when youngest daughter Madison is found talking to her new friends in the walk in wardrobe and the old tree outside the house looks very ominous.

The effects sequences are expertly crafted with a really good mix of CG and practical effects. There is nothing really to beat a skillful practical effect and this film makes use of a number of them. From baseballs moving on their own to the subtle creak of a door, it all adds to the atmosphere if the actors are interacting with something tangible. I assume some of the decisions were made for financial reasons, but they really paid off. Of course, there is a good deal of CG to represent the other side and the more tricky sequences like the tree coming to life.

poltergeist-sam-rockwellA real plus point for the film is the calibre of the acting talent. I could watch Sam Rockwell in just about anything and he always seems to be bring his A game in whatever role he takes on. It is no different here, breathing life into a role that could have been just a support for a glowing TV screen. Rosemarie DeWitt is similarly good as the mother. Again, the role is not large but she is outstanding. In support, as the lead paranormal investigator, is Jared Harris. He is Carrigan Burke, a TV star who specializes in clearing houses of malignant spirits. Behind that he has a genuine gift for dealing with paranormal activities. His performance injects a good deal of humour which is used to great effect to relieve the tension.

The story is updated for modern audiences with the introduction of some of the various electronic devices we use today. Central to parts of the plot are a mobile phone, that picks up some of the signals from the spirits, and a small drone which is used in several ways. The drone camera is used as the way we are introduced to the arrival of Burke at the family home. The drone then plays a crucial part in the search for the missing child.

The film doesn’t hang about at all. With a run time of just under ninety minutes it fairly zips along. To a certain extent, this is at the expense of character development but the film makers obviously realised that it is very easy for a film to outstay its welcome. There is little in the way of exposition with only scene really explaining the reason for the spirits being there in the first place. Everything else is conveyed using the images.

Overall, a very satisfying horror film that does exactly what it aims to do. Scare you and make you jump. Recommended.

John McArthur
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