Terror is a funny thing. It can either cripple the mind or act as a shot of gleeful adrenaline to the chest—possibly even a mixture of both. However, what is often forgotten about fear is how childlike it is.
The earliest memories of true horror involve hiding away under bedsheets from the creepy painting of an Amish man in nanna’s guest room, or that odd bush whose silhouette looks like a witch’s shriveled claw, reaching for your soft head. Parents may say it’s irrational as you run screaming into their bedroom, but even they remember what it was like to do the same.
The original “Poltergeist” rekindled those fears of clowns, the attic and thunderstorms in a PG-rated horrorfest amongst a decade of R-rated splatter porn. Now in an age where the R-rated horror films remain king (albeit in better films) and the PG-13 counterparts are dulled versions of the same blade, the remake of “Poltergeist” tries once again to light a fire underneath all of our most infantile fears—to sort of effective results.
Like the original the new version focuses on a family struck hard by the recession (a fear that never subsides) moving into a new home in hopes to start a new life. Writer David Lindsay-Abaire has done a great job of creating a modern, ball-busting but endearing modern family where the youngest can call her dad a dumbass with adorable abandon and where Sam Rockwell and Rosemarie DeWitt shine as brightly as actors can playing parents in a horror movie.
Of course there’s the quintessential but never useful older sister whose only concern is her IPhone and the adorable little munchkin-girl who will inevitably be taken by sinister forces. But it’s easy to throw them in the mental garbage when considering the boy, Griffin (Kyle Catlett) who is really the heart of the film.
He inspects the new home curiously, cautiously analyzing the attic step, closets and anything that could be home to ghosts, goblins, or an old oil painting of a Victorian slave owner. He has spent years being told to stop being afraid of the things he thinks he sees, and maybe he thinks it’s time to too. But the thing about fear at his age is that it’s unavoidable. Your brain can’t rationalize and you’re forced to lay awake, bug-eyed, going “What was that?” He tries to be brave, but it’s hard when a set of old wooden clown toys is staring you in the face—making it easier to feel for him in the films climax.
When it finally does get to the nitty-gritty and truly becomes a haunted house movie you can tell director Gil Kenan had no intention of creating a truly horrifying film like “Paranormal Activity” or “The Conjuring”. He’s too talented a director (see the animated “Monster House”) to think he would purposely ignore proven horror-film techniques like shadows or looming silence. Simplicity and fun is the name of the game here.
A notable example is when Griffin is attacked by a grotesque clown doll and is then taken hostage by a tree arm. Only a silly person would think this was meant to be taken seriously. The idea behind it is to capitalize on the adolescent fears of our youth and make them a reality. Granted, the abundance of CGI makes that harder to grasp then in the original, removing a sense of realism, but I can only imagine how turned off audiences would be if they tried to use realistic looking branches. I can already hear the misguided hipsters and youngsters overusing “cheesy” to mind-numbing lengths.
Through it all, the clowns, the black sludge, the usage of a drone to investigate a paranormal world (why have internet providers not advertised these apparent “interdimensional” packages?) I can honestly say that point was hit home. This remake is an unserious, entertaining ride that took me back to when I thought a Coco-Puff under my bed looked like a miniature demon. Was any of it scary? Not at all. I may have seen things the way Griffin did when I was 10, but the only thing I fear now is crippling debt, prostate cancer and spiders. To some that may make “Poltergeist” a useless remake to be thrown away with the others like a He-Man when you asked for a G.I. Joe.
But I kind of admire that the thought process was to remind modern audiences of the adolescent horrors of when their blankets were their ultimate security. It’s certainly a breath of air amidst a seemingly endless cloud of demonic, possession themes that only sometimes kind of work. Here is a fun horror movie to not take at all seriously and hopefully find some relation. Will you sleep soundly? I can almost assure you will. As long as you don’t have any clowns nearby. However if you do I believe you may have bigger issues to mull over.