When it comes to glossy studio-backed haunted-house movies, “Poltergeist” was the first out of the gate and arguably remains the best, a thrilling big-budget adventure ride produced (and some would say partially directed) by Steven Spielberg that brought an Amblin-esque sheen to a creaky sub-genre harkening back to such “old dark house” fare as 1927's “The Cat and the Canary” and 1944's “The Uninvited.” At the time it undoubtedly felt like a fresh take, and even more than 1979's “The Amityville Horror” it set the template for the modern supernatural horror movie.
The upcoming Gil Kenan-directed remake, meanwhile? Can't say I'm chomping at the bit for it. Though I felt cautiously optimistic after hearing about the talent attached — “Rabbit Hole” playwright and screenwriter David Lindsay-Abaire wrote the script, while Sam Rockwell and Rosemarie Dewitt were set to star as the central couple who fight to free their young daughter from the clutches of a malevolent supernatural force — my expectations have dampened significantly after watching the first two trailers, which aside from the heftiness of the “Poltergeist” name feel nearly indistinguishable from every other Hollywood haunted house movie to come out over the last ten years.
To be fair, this isn't an issue of quality but rather one of marketing. “Poltergeist” may well turn out to be a solid effort, but it's hard to get excited about a film whose ad campaign is indistinguishable from, say, “The Conjuring” or “Insidious” or, hell, even a third-rate piece of schlock like 2009's “The Haunting in Connecticut.” Take the latest trailer, which feels like a mashup of moments from other movies:
Also: does this not look like an almost exact remake of the original movie? I've made this point before, but it bears repeating: what is the point of remaking something (outside of the obvious financial considerations) when you're not putting a wildly different spin on the material? From the suburban tract home setting to the TV static to the possessed clown doll, there seems to be almost nothing in the remake to distinguish it from the '82 version. The sole major change that's apparent from the footage we've seen so far — swapping out the group of paranormal researchers led by Zelda Rubinstein's Tangina Barrons with a generic priest character played by Jared Harris — only serves to make the film feel even more generic.
But the main problem isn't that “Poltergeist” 2015 doesn't seem to be doing anything fresh with “Poltergeist” — enough of a turn-off on its own — but that it doesn't seem to be doing anything fresh with the haunted-house genre in general. Over 30 years removed from the original film's release, instead of feeling special “Poltergeist” 2015 so far reads as just another mediocre-seeming entry in a sea of same-y supernatural horror flicks. Want a fresh and inspired spookfest? Watch “The Babadook.” As for “Poltergeist,” it's looking less and less promising the closer we get to May 22.