Eric (Sam Rockwell) is out of a job, and Amy (Rosemary De Witt) is a stay-at-home writer who spends more time looking after the children than actually writing.
The first is that television is a negative influence on children, and a portal of evil. It is located in the house (often at the hearth), and therefore brings evil right into the heart of the family.
Because of the corruption and lack of oversight in the economy of the 1980s, Mr. Freeling’s avaricious boss is free to commit a horribly immoral (but profitable!) act: moving the headstones at a local cemetery, without moving the bodies underneath them.
This idea of irresponsible laissez-faire economics creating blow-back is punctuated in the film by a composition in which Steve Freeling is seen reading a copy of a Ronald Reagan Biography: Reagan: The Man, The President.
The family also learns that the former owner was a “techno-phile” and that he wired the entire house for universal wi-fi access. I-Pads, I-Phones and flat screen TVs now take the place of the original’s portal of evil.
The idea here could be that with the development of wi-fi and personal devices, the evil of the TV is now spread to every corner of the house, not just the living room, or the upstairs TV.
Now evil can access you and your children anywhere and at anytime.
The family moves into a foreclosure in the years after the 2008 Recession. Mom and Dad both are unemployed, and money is tight. When we are doing poorly in terms of money, we sometimes cut corners, we sometimes make bad choices...and then have to live with those choices. We put off health care expenses. We accumulate credit card debt. We delay a visit from the plumber, or an electrician.
Again there's ample material here to build a sub-textual case about the economy, and attempt to tie it in with the spectral outbreak.
But after this scene (which follows one in which Eric learns, embarrassingly, that two family credit cards are over the limit…), absolutely nothing comes of the economy sub-text, or -- crushingly -- the technological one either.
A malevolent tree grabs the boy on a stormy night. The little girl gets sucked into the closet. Paranormal investigators come in and quantify the spirits as poltergeists; ones angry about the head-stone incident. Then an eccentric medium is called in to clean the house. The girl is rescued after an instance of bi-location, and then the spirits strike one more time.
Well, we get the recycled family, the recycled house, the recycled medium (now a man), and the recycled paranormal investigators. Nothing to new to see there.
The original movie didn’t follow Mrs. Freeling’s journey to the spectral realm, but the remake does. The Other Side here doesn’t resemble an astral plane at all, oddly, but rather an organic one, where rotting corpses are piled upon each other, stretching out and trying to grab any one they can get.
Kyle Catlett gives the best performance in the film, too. Whatever good qualities this Poltergeist possesses owe mostly to his efforts.
So make no mistake: this is the slap-jack, cliff-notes version of the story, one with no time or patience for mood, nuance, under-score or character-building. All the stuff that makes the original Poltergeist something special -- like the funeral for Carol Ann’s bird, or Dr. Lesh’s explanation of death -- is omitted here. Presumably so the theater can pack in an extra showing a day.
In fact, the presence of the clowns make no sense here. A whole car's worth of clowns is discovered in a crawl-space outside Griffin's room. Eric quips that people "collect" weird things, and that's the only explanation we get.
That's true, Eric.
But if you go to the trouble to collect weird things -- like all these old fashioned clowns (some made of very expensive porcelain, apparently) -- you likely aren't going to leave them behind when you move.
Especially if you have money problems. You'll either take them with you, or sell them on E-Bay in a bid for quick cash. The Great Recession Economy is also the E-Bay Economy. Sometimes E-Bay or Craigslist money are all that gets people through the gaps between pay checks these days.
But this remake HAS to have clowns in it, right? At the very least so you can plaster one on the poster...
The two ideas of the original film, as I’ve laid out here, involve the integration of technology into our home, and the way that families respond to shifts in economic policies. Those are ideas with huge relevance and importance today, in 2015.
Oddly, the remake doesn’t even seem to have the resources behind it that the original did. Here, for example, the house doesn’t fold up on itself in the finale.
And here, only one corpse bursts up out of the yard, instead of the virtual mob we get in the original, in the pool, in the house and in the yard.
Here, we don’t get the visual manifestations of the ghosts/demons, either, or the wall-climbing scene.
Spectacle-wise -- the one area you expect a horror film made in 2015 to improve on the 1982 original -- this film is a total downgrade. It's cut rate not just in terms of ideas, but in terms of special effects too.
Here, the Bowens do the same thing…but with a new house.
Out of your car? Gimme a break.
Again, I don’t hate remakes as a rule.