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Family Movie Review: Poltergeist (PG-13)

Poltergeist ChesapeakeFamilyMovieReviewKernel Rating (out of 5): whole popcorn kernalwhole popcorn kernalhalf popcorn kernal

MPAA Rating: PG-13        Length: 93 minutes

Age Appropriate For: 13+. The remake of the 1982 film is similar to other recent horror franchises, like “Insidious,” as well as the original: some violence, including supernatural beings/demonic forces/ghosts attacking children and adults; a lot of jump scares and frightening imagery, like a clown doll attacking a child, unseen forces controlling tools and using them to threaten people; and some grotesque stuff, like a portal to the world of the undead. Also some kissing, sexual references, cursing, and cigarette smoking.

This 2015 remake of the ’80s classic horror film ‘Poltergeist’ doesn’t truly distinguish itself from its predecessor, but a solid cast and good use of 3D technology make it tolerable, if not remarkable.

By Roxana Hadadi

Since its release in the early 1980s, the classic horror film “Poltergeist” has been mined for parts. The “Paranormal Activity” and “Insidious” films both picked up and ran with the kids-talking-to-invisible-demons thing, and now that there’s a remake of “Poltergeist,” you would expect a little distinction from what has now become the norm. But at this point, it’s all same old, same old.

The original “Poltergeist” was hilariously rated PG for its story of a family moving into a house built on top of a Native American burial ground, full of angry spirits out for vengeance; the implications about upward mobility and the evils of the suburbs were pretty obvious. Adapted for a 2015 audience, the “Poltergeist” remake now has a PG-13 rating (lots of jump scares, but not that much gore) but with less social commentary or political implications. There is still a Native American burial ground, still an evil tree, still a portal to another world. But the storytelling is so streamlined that the pacing, so important for a horror movie, feels off.

The story is this: The Bowen family, led by father Eric (Sam Rockwell, of “The Way Way Back”) and mother Amy (Rosemarie DeWitt, of “Promised Land”), has fallen on rough times. He lost his job and has since gone a little aloof and boozy; she’s failed as a writer and is instead a stay-at-home mom to their three children, the screen-obsessed teenager Kendra (Saxon Sharbino), the anxious Griffin (Kyle Catlett), and the adorable Madison (Kennedi Clements). They move into the suburbs as a downsizing move, but almost immediately, things start to get weird. During the walk-through, Madison speaks to invisible “friends” in a bedroom closet, and then on the first night, Griffin sees Madison again speaking to “friends” through their flat-screen television.

And the next night, when Eric and Amy are having dinner with friends, they get the low-down on their house: Weird things keep happening there. Weird, possibly supernatural, probably dangerous things. When they get back home, Madison is gone, Griffin has been attacked by a tree, and Kendra was barraged by skeletal hands sticking up through the basement floor. How to get their daughter back? And how to handle all the other demonic things happening in and around the house, like a box full of clown dolls and creepy squirrels? They’re going to need help, so they enlist paranormal investigator Carrigan Burke (Jared Harris, of “The Boxtrolls”), who has a traumatic history of his own as he tries to save Madison from the other realm to which she’s been dragged.

That’s only the first half hour! “Poltergeist” moves at an insanely fast pace in the beginning, so rapidly that every characters is given barely one trait before the house starts acting up. Rockwell and DeWitt are both immensely likeable, but their roles in the film are barely there; DeWitt is especially underserved by a rewriting of her character so she doesn’t get one of the best scenes from the original “Poltergeist.” Teens viewing the movie for the first time won’t be aware of that, but it may surprise them how much the parents are sidelined here. Instead, it’s the middle child Griffin who is given the most to do, and his role is expanded here to take an active role in saving Madison. Perhaps it’s because so many other supernatural films have focused on boys – including the aforementioned “Insidious” and “Paranormal Activity” – but it’s a little frustrating to see both daughters shoved to the side because of this story development.

Nevertheless, this version of “Poltergeist” is mild enough for most teenagers, and the use of 3D to explore Madison’s haunted closet and what exists beyond is fairly ingenious. Although this remake can’t step out entirely from the shadow of its predecessor or fully distinguish itself from the other films that have mimicked its style in the years since the original, at least this “Poltergeist” remake offers some light scares and a solid cast. For parents accompanying young teenagers to the movies, it could be worse.

Interested in a previously released film? Read our reviews of films already showing in your local theater.

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