Sunday 11 December 2016

Poltergeist movie review - 'Watch it in 3D and be prepared to clutch your pearls. A lot'

Tanya Sweeney

Published 22/05/2015 | 14:44

The original Poltergeist movie, released in 1982 and co-written by Steven Spielberg, was a true-blue horror classic. But it was the mythology behind the camera that made it a truly malevolent, unassailable force. According to 'curse of Poltergeist' lore, four cast members (including lead Heather O'Rourke) died within six years of the film's release.

4*

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Suffice to say that in the horror canon, Poltergeist casts a long and terribly eerie shadow. It was the idea of famed producer Sam Raimi to conjure up a retread of the classic, and given the bounty of effects wizardry and other Hollywood hocus pocus, the timing certainly seemed right.

Fast-forward to the present day, where Eric and Amy Bowe (Sam Rockwell and Rosemarie DeWitt) move their three children into a new house after Eric loses his job. Though the kids hate their new, downsized home, it's large and labyrinthine enough to have plenty of creepy corridors, dark corners and unused attics (where were they living before? The White House?).

From the outset, we understand that this is no common or garden neighbourhood. Power lines crackle with menace behind the house, while flowers wilt in the front garden. True to the original, a massive willow tree takes pride of place on the lawn.

Little do the Bowens know just what a dud their real estate agent has palmed off on them: the house is built on an old graveyard (the headstones got moved down the road, yet the bodies did not), while there are squirrels and clown dolls galore in the attic.

Eric and Amy ignore all of this to their peril, and live to regret it when their daughter Madison (Kennedi Clements) gets snatched by some restless souls in the wardrobe, and can only communicate from her new purgatory through the widescreen TV in the living room. Her actual whereabouts remain a mystery.

The family call upon the local paranormal expert Claire (Jane Adams) and Carrigan Burke (Jared Harris), an Irish ghost-chaser with his own reality TV show, to bring her back to this realm. Easier than it sounds.

So far, so faithful to the original… but is it any good?

The short answer is, yup. Just as the genre demands, there are plenty of jumpy moments (mainly involving those pesky clown dolls), and one seriously nerve-jangling scene where Claire's assistant (Nicholas Braun) almost comes a cropper with an electric drill.

There are some impressive effects deployed as Madison gets wrenched from purgatory… but overall, the gore factor is pretty low.

In a slight departure from the original, the back story of the Bowens is played out extensively; Amy is a writer down on her luck, while Eric is a proud man pushed to his limits with a fruitless job search. This sketching out of the family makes it easier to care whether Madison makes it back to the other side of the TV screen.

Heather O'Rourke, with her iconic angelic face and haunted eyes, was always going to be a tough act to follow. Casting directors must have surely high-fived each other when Clements walked into the audition room. Whether by accident or design, the child actor his every bit as compellingly cherubic as her predecessor.

Middle child Griffin (Kyle Catlett) is another supremely watchable force. He is permanently hobbled by anxiety, lost in the shuffle of a family in transition.

In the end, the film is pretty much seen through his eyes, and - spoiler alert - he becomes the family's unlikely hero. Harris knocks together a decent Irish accent (well, his dad was Limerick man Richard), and has been handed the best line of the film.

It's hard to say whether Kenan's remake trumps the original, but he's a brave man for at least trying.

Poltergeist's scenes in 1982 were seriously unsettling, but today's horror audiences are usually chomping at the bit for more blood and bone.

Ultimately, this is a story faithfully retold, and with no small amount of 21st-century flair. Watch it in 3D, as I did, and be prepared to clutch your pearls. A lot.

Horror/thriller. Starring Sam Rockwell, Rosemarie DeWitt, Kennedi Clements, Saxon Sharbino, Kyle Catlett, Jared Harris, Jane Adams, Susan Heyward. Director: Gil Kenan. Cert: 15A

Movie reviews: Poltergeist, Une Nouvelle Amie, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, A Fuller Life

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