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Poltergeist Review

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A family discover their new home includes an industrial-strength curse. Cue paranormal mayhem and a hungry TV.

★★★★★

If anyone’s going to reboot Poltergeist, the quintessential 1980s haunted-mansion fun-ride, it may as well be these guys. Director Gil Kenan, after all, once made a movie called Monster House, about a people-eating domicile. And producer Sam Raimi brought us cinema’s nastiest tree in The Evil Dead, a year before Poltergeist came along with its own awful oak. Both men have a knack for the nightmarish, which is why it’s such a shame that their collaboration is so underpowered — like a ghost train in dire need of fuel.

Admittedly, it had its work cut out to muster up fresh beats — cinemas have been flooded with variations on the nuclear-family-under-supernatural-attack theme in recent years, with the Insidious franchise basically an extended Poltergeist remix in itself. Even so, much of this is terribly generic. The volume is pumped way up (where the original had one creepy clown toy, this has a whole box of them) and new perils are added (hello, demonic squirrel!), but it all feels very been there, possessed that.

There’s a disappointing reliance on jump-scares, throwing off any sense of slow, creepy build-up. And advances in technology, like the CGI that allows Kenan to stage a much more ambitious tree attack, actually detract from the fear. Let’s not forget that one of the original’s most effective moments involved nothing more than a stack of foldaway chairs and a quick-moving crew.

Visually, it often delivers. The big moment involving the staticky TV (“They’re here”) is massively effective — does the creepy Sony box, in a Fox film, constitute reverse-product-placement? — while the scenes delving into the cadaver-packed dimension beyond a bedroom-closet portal are nicely done. It’s not enough, though, to compensate for the script’s blandness, which not even the ferociously likable Sam Rockwell and Rosemarie DeWitt can overcome. And while the film resists the urge to throw in a malevolent iPad, the less said about Jared Harris’ paranormal investigator, who has a backstory involving a haunted car wash, the better.

A disappointingly tame and unimaginative effort, which throws away much of what was best-loved about the original and fails to find worthy replacements.

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