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Poltergeist: Scarcity of scares 

Rating: **

POLTERGEIST
**
DIRECTED BY Gil Kenan
STARS Sam Rockwell, Rosemarie DeWitt

Kennedi Clements in Poltergeist (Photo: Fox & MGM)
  • Kennedi Clements in Poltergeist (Photo: Fox & MGM)

The latest pilfering of this nation's collective nostalgia on the cinematic front is Poltergeist, a reboot of the popular 1982 flick directed by Tobe Hooper and produced by Steven Spielberg. The '82 offering presented the horror film as an amusement park ride, thrilling audiences with its roller coaster rhythms and hair-raising turns. The picture provided a unique experience not duplicated by its two desultory sequels — lacking anything fresh or fun, they quickly went off the rails, a condition shared by this mediocre update.

As before, there's a five-figure family taking up residence in a seemingly innocuous suburban home. Dad Eric Bowen (Sam Rockwell) is looking for a new job after getting laid off by the John Deere outfit; mom Amy (Rosemarie DeWitt) stays at home with the kids, trying to write her great American novel; teenage daughter Kendra (Saxon Sharbino) pouts a lot; son Griffin (Kyle Catlett) is scared of everything; and youngest child Madison (Kennedi Clements) stands around looking cute. It's Madison who first realizes there's a supernatural presence in the house, talking to spooks through a closed closet door and a flickering television screen. Soon, though, Griffin is being attacked by stuffed clowns while Kendra has to suffer the indignity of faulty Wi-Fi; once the parents get wind of the situation, they turn to a team of paranormal researchers as well as a celebrity ghost hunter (Jared Harris).

Do I need a SPOILER ALERT here if I'm going to be referencing the 1982 original? Because there's really nothing to spoil in this new version. The jolts from the first film — the specter of an Indian burial ground, the revelation that the bodies have not been moved — are narratively disemboweled at early points, leaving nothing in the way of surprises. It's not that this Poltergeist is a bad film per se — the whomping willow tree is an effective carryover, and I did enjoy the approach taken by Rockwell, making the dad endearingly goofy — but it does appear to be made for people who have never seen a haunted house film before. For everyone else, it won't even seem like a remake of Poltergeist as much as it will feel like The Conjuring 2, Insidious: Chapter 3 or Paranormal Activity 33-1/3.

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