The original Poltergeist, earning its PG rating in the period just before “PG-13” existed, became a horror classic in part due to how it took the elements of middle-class status symbols of the Reagan years and turned them from objects of comfort to terror. Three decades later, Poltergeist gets a reboot with some new narrative touches. Rather than showing a successful family, the family in the 2015 reboot have the struggles many modern families have. Father Eric (Sam Rockwell) recently lost his job, while mother Amy (Rosemarie DeWitt) is an unsuccessful writer as well as a housewife.
Under the strains of mounting debt, the two have uprooted their three children into a suburban community where many of the houses are going through states of foreclosure. Those kids include obnoxious teenager Kendra (Saxon Sharbino), constant worrywart Griffin (Kyle Catlett) and cute-as-a-button Madison (Kennedi Clements). All three are, like most children their age, connected to a barrage of electronics, which come into play once the family starts receiving visitors.
Those visits come surprisingly quickly, and the film highlights the increasing presence of technology in ways unimaginable in the home of the original Poltergeist. The family hasn’t even settled in before they’re being attacked by clown dolls, and within a few days, Madison is drawn to a malfunctioning TV set before being abducted by the house’s spirits. In an effort to figure out what happened to their daughter without raising the suspicions of the police, Eric and Amy turn to a paranormal academic (Jane Adams), who in turn brings in a television personality (Jared Harris) to try and rescue Madison.
Even with the various narrative adjustments, Poltergeist‘s story will ultimately feel familiar to those who know the original film. It’s one of the curses of horror reboots in particular. But Poltergeist comes off better than most remakes, largely thanks to the solid casting choices. Sam Rockwell brings a goofiness to his father figure that makes him instantly charming, and whoever thought of pairing him with DeWitt is a genius. DeWitt gets a little shortchanged in character development compared to Rockwell, but their scenes together crackle with energy. Catlett also makes for a smart casting choice, offering a sense of fear that is coupled with a wisdom that’s hard to find in most performers his age. As for Harris, he seems to be having a lot of fun with his role, which lets him go over the top for a few stretches, particularly when he’s in television performance mode.
Fans of the original Poltergeist may find this film unnecessary. For those who may not be familiar with the series, though, this Poltergeist is solid enough to work on its own merits, and it works better than most horror reboots of recent memory.