The omens were good for this remake of Tobe Hooper’s (or was it Steven Spielberg’s?) beloved PG-13 suburban shocker. The cast are terrific: Sam Rockwell and Rosemarie DeWitt play the hapless parents whose bargain dream-home turns out to be a haunted death-trap, with strong support from their onscreen offspring, especially Kyle Catlett as nervy middle child Griffin. Director Gil Kenan has a solid track record – his 2006 debut ‘Monster House’ remains a sorely underrated slice of ’80s throwback kiddie horror – and producer Sam Raimi’s fright-flick credentials are, of course, unimpeachable.
So it’s disappointing to report that ‘Poltergeist’, while entertaining, has more in common with slick, audience-goosing twenty-first-century spookers like ‘Insidious’ and ‘Sinister’ than with Hooper’s imaginative original.
The characters may be new and the effects more sophisticated (though far less inventive), but the plot remains essentially unchanged. When their five-year-old daughter (Kennedi Clements) is sucked into the supernatural realm by unquiet spirits, Rockwell and DeWitt turn to a team of paranormal investigators to get her back.
A series of superb mid-film set-pieces – a creepy tree springing to ankle-grabbing life, some nasty business with a power drill – set a high bar, but Kenan can’t sustain the tension. And when the original movie’s bellowing dwarf medium is replaced by Jared Harris’s smirking Irish TV psychic, the film takes a turn for the tacky, eschewing Hooper’s surrealist blowout in favour of pointless overexplanation and a feeble climax.