There's a fine line between what defines a remake and a reboot, I suppose. In either case, we're dealing with restarts, and in today's cinematic climate, any such variation implies the hope for further chapters. "Poltergeist 2015" is no exception.
In the case of director Gil ("Monster House") Kenan and producer Sam "Evil Dead" Raimi's "retelling", we're offered the same scenario as in the Tobe Hooper '82 classic: a family moves into a new home where they're tormented by malevolent, burial-ground spirits. Items in and around the house take on a life of their own: the towering tree, an eerie clown doll and a television set which acts as a conduit to another dimension. In essence, it's Richard Matheson's "Little Girl Lost", as previously and unofficially revised by Steven Spielberg.
In the new "Poltergeist", screenwriter David Lindsay-Abaire has changed the family's name from Freeling to Bowen. There's Eric, the father (Sam Rockwell); Amy, the mother (Rosemarie Dewitt); the older sister, Kendra (Saxon Sharbino), the little brother, Griffin (Kyle Catlett) and the little sister, Madison (Kennedi Clements), who for all intents and purposes is a dead-ringer for Heather O'Rouke's iconic Carol Anne, but with jet-black hair. Like Carol Anne, Madison is lured into an unearthly realm, and try as her family may, they're at a loss as to how to retrieve her. (Now, that the Bowens are plagued in the same manner as the Freelings may simply mean that the ghosts prefer to toy with the same variables whenever they're available with any new family that emerges, but then again, a ghost fable by any other name...well, you get my drift.)
As in the original, a paranormal team is recruited to investigate Madison's abduction. Their leader is Dr. Brooke Powell (Jane Adams), and she and her crew are at a loss as to how to get Madison back. As such, Powell calls upon her ex, a ghost-hunter celebrity named Carrigan Burke (Jared Harris).
Carrigan is this version's Tangina, but unlike Zelda Rubinstein's quirky character, Harris' counterpart appears more somber and action-prone: a cross between Father Merrin and Van Helsing. Though it takes half the movie for him to make a substantial appearance, he becomes the story's savior, and in more ways than one, for his determination gives the plot an aura of tension and sophistication, making the proceedings credible, despite their extraordinary nature.
To add to the dilemma, Cartlett's nervous brother creates an overcoming-one's-fear motif. Whether he's battling a frightening doll or a monstrous tree, it's easy to see through his eyes and admire his courage when he must journey forth to rescue his sister.
Unfortunately, a wonderful opportunity is missed by not exploring the other dimension: a fault that can also be attributed to the original film and its sequels. In the "Twilight Zone" adaptation of Matheson's story, we're at least granted a view of the abstract, psychedelic world in which the poor girl wanders. An extrapolation on this concept would have added a unique touch to the new film and have justifiably padded its running time.
As it stands, the new "Poltergeist" runs roughly a hour and twenty minutes. Its brevity makes it feel like a television movie, stripped of commercials, of course. This is not to say the film is skimpy in content or ineffective in its rehashed scares; however, in comparison to the Hooper film, it feels incomplete.
The lasting impact of "Poltergeist 2015" is yet to be seen, but it seems destined to become like other, potential franchise restarters: "The Amityville Horror", "The Fog", "Friday the 13th", "A Nightmare on Elm Street" and "The Omen".
As long as it makes a profit, that should suffice, and horror fans should certainly give it a whirl, but as far as rattling the pop-cultural chains of innovation, this one, at best, will go down as an also-ran among this year's summer releases: no shame in that, but no victory, either.