House of horrors

The remake of Poltergeist doesn’t improve upon the 1982 original, but is better than might be feared. The new film follows the basic blueprint of the original but makes a few contemporary adjustments and boasts an inspired, indie-friendly cast.

Director Gil Kenan wastes little time before getting down to business, as an all-American family moves into a new house – which, oddly enough, they appear to be buying sight unseen.

Sam Rockwell and Rosemarie DeWitt play Mom and Dad, portrayed here as being not especially attuned to the specific needs of their children, including a sassy teen daughter (Saxon Sharbino), a fearful son (Kyle Catlett), and a precocious little daughter (Kennedi Clements) who utters the immortal words: “They’re hee-e-ere.”

Of course, we all know who “they” are, and that they’re definitely here already – a gaggle of ghosts determined to rattle the family and its new domicile to their very foundations.

The high-concept notion of a haunting in latter-day suburbia made Poltergeist a smash hit that spawned two (inferior) sequels and even an (unrelated) anthology series, and this updating offers some good scares, a lot of CGI effects, and that all-important brand name designed to attract big audiences.

At the very least, the new Poltergeist doesn’t insult memories of the original, and Kenan has coaxed especially appealing performances from its youngest cast members, Clements (in her big-screen bow) and Catlett, both of whom shine.

Jane Adams plays the investigating parapsychologist (cue the exposition) joined by Jared Harris as a reality-TV “ghostbuster” (cue the scenery-chewing). The two, so memorable together in Todd Solondz’s 1999 indie hit Happiness, bring a welcome bit of sparkle to stock characters. A fine actor in his own right, Harris is also the son of the late, great Richard Harris, and in a few high-pitched moments he appears to be channeling the elder Harris’ spirit – to warmly hammy effect. !

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