Friday, May 22, 2015


Opening this weekend:

PoltergeistOne of the wittier moments in the original 1982 Poltergeist came when the little boy’s clown doll finally came to life and attacked him. What makes the scene brilliant is that, though the poor kid is terrified, he doesn’t really seem surprised.

Do any children actually enjoy clowns? Did they ever? The poster for this Poltergeist remake features another awful clown with a look of indolent evil on his face. At what toy store was this nightmare purchased, and by who, with the idea that it would delight a little kid?

The clown face on the poster is a key to why this new Poltergeist doesn’t work. Like this image, the movie pushes too hard. I like the original film, but have never thought it was all that scary. Its chief appeal, aside from the legs of Jobeth Williams, was its idyllic vision of suburban life, the charm of which was only strengthened by the interruption by malevolent supernatural forces.

The family in the new film, directed by Gil Kenan, has downsized into the haunted house after Dad (Sam Rockwell) has been laid off. The structure is more or less the same as that of the original—indeed, it’s probably a tighter, more coherent piece of storytelling. But despite a few halfhearted attempts at humor, the subtext this time is all anger, disappointment, economic impotence and sexual frustration. Mom (Rosemarie DeWitt) walks on eggshells around Dad’s wounded breadwinner’s pride, and Rockwell gives off such seething fury, especially toward the beginning, that he seems like a greater danger to his family than the ghosts.

Into this already queasy atmosphere Kenan introduces the scare scenes whole-hog, way too early after a perfunctory build-up. I’m pretty easy to scare, and I found most of them routine.

As for the rest of the cast, all three of the kids are excellent, and Jared Harris isn’t bad as a daring celebrity ghostbuster, but the standout among the adults is Jane Adams as a frazzled paranormal researcher. She doesn’t get enough to do, however.

Oh yeah, it’s being released in 3-D. There’s one decent effect, involving a drill bit. Otherwise, as usual, it’s superfluous.

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