Sunday, May 24, 2015

Poltergeist [2015]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (A-III)  ChiTrib/Variety (2 Stars) (1 1/2 Stars)  AVClub (C+)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. McAleer) review
ChicagoTribune / Variety (A. Barker) review (B. Talerico) review
AVClub (J. Hassenger) review  

Poltergeist [2015] (directed by Gil Kenan, screenplay by David Lindsay-Abaire story by Steven Spielberg) is, all things considered, a pretty good updated reboot of the "scary movie / horror" Poltergeist franchise [1982-] that was popular in the 1980s. 

As has often been noted by those who've studied / written about "genre films" a good part of what makes such movies "work" is the film's subtext:

The subtext to the original Poltergeist [1982] movie was the renewed "can do" / "it's morning (again) in America" of the 1980s / Reagan Era in the United States.  So film as about Steve Freeling (played then by Craig T. Nelson) a successful "real estate broker" who moved his family into a "big new house" in a subdivision that was built by the firm he worked for and whose homes he was largely responsible in selling.  Yet unbeknownst to him (he hadn't been part of the firm initially), it turns out that his new home along with the neighboring ones was built upon a cemetery.  Needless to say, the ghosts of the dead in that cemetery proved rather unhappy about being disturbed / disrespected in this way ... and much "scary stuff" ensued ...

The subtext to the current Poltergeist [2015] is the much less confident / much poorer current state of affairs in "middle America."  So the film is about Sam and Amy Bowen (played by Sam Rockwell and Rosemary Dewitt respectively) who, because Sam's lost his manufacturing job at lawn mower / tractor manufacturer "John Deere," needed to scale down.  The house that they buy is in a clearly not exactly "perfect" indeed "sub-prime" residential district with giant high-voltage power lines running right through the middle of it.  Indeed, the only reason why they were able buy this house at all was because the previous owner lost the house (or "walked away" from the house ...) due to foreclosure.  Teenage daughter Kendra (played by Saxon Sharbino) immediately hated the place, in good part because those power lines, which she immediately believed would make them all sick, messed with reception on her treasured iPhone ;-).  Soon enough the parents learn that the house had also been built upon a cemetery, though at least initially they're assured that the "good builders" moved the cemetery "to a better location" nearby.  But their 8-10 year old, impressionable, already "scaredy cat," son Griffin (played by Kyle Catlett) digs-up a human bone in their garden ... And then youngest daughter, 3-5 yo, Maddy / Madison (played by Kennedi Clemens), who's already been known to have an "active imagination," starts talking to strange invisible people through the family's "flat screen" TV in the living room ... Needless to say, much ensues ... ;-)

There are many reviewers (above) who clearly preferred the original to the new one.  But I must say that I liked the new one better.  (1) The original is so obviously dated "to another time" long since gone -- the Reagan Era, (2) the characters are much better developed in the new version than in the old, in the old version the only character who really mattered was the father (and then of course his youngest daughter, who also starts talking to ghosts through their, then, much smaller family TV set) while in the newer version, _all the characters_ in the family added to the story, and (3) the special effects in the new version are certainly much better than in the old.  

So I can't "hate" the new version here.  And I do believe that once the newer version becomes a rental most families will prefer the new version to the old one because the new version really does speak to current realities much better than the older version. 

So sometimes the "new" version really is better than the old ...

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