IS IT ANY GOOD? (GRADE: B) It may never be as iconic as the original, but this new Poltergeist is no embarrassment either. Now, I'm not a horror aficionado. In general it's my least-favorite film genre, primarily because there's often so little light contrasting the darkness (thematically speaking). But this film has heart, humanity, and humor to balance the horror. Terror junkies may or may not get their fix, but for me it was scary enough to be fun, but not so frightening as to be oppressive.
While Poltergeist leans too heavily upon well-worn horror tropes (things that go bump in the night, disturbed burial grounds, convenient plotting, jump-scares, supporting characters imperiled by incredibly stupid decisions, etc), in other ways it's refreshing. At 93 minutes, it's briskly-paced and never lags. Javier Aguirresarobe's cinematography favors vibrant colors over the washed-out, filtered bleakness of other thrillers, which actually works in the film's favor by making it feel more realistic. Marc Streitenfeld's musical score is appropriately creepy, and director Gil Kenan stages some truly impressive set pieces that are as exhilarating as they are frightening.
Most importantly, this film moved me and invested me in its characters. While it has the framework of a horror movie, what it's really about is a struggling family who pull closer together in a time of crisis. Their arguments, moments of levity, and affection for one another are written and acted with a genuine feel. Sam Rockwell and Rosemarie DeWitt give well-rounded, emotionally-resonant performances as the husband and wife whose children are threatened by malevolent forces. All three of the kids are solid, with Kyle Catlett being the standout as a boy who battles guilt and paralyzing terror. Jared Harris and Jane Adams are terrific as the lead pair of paranormal investigators trying to help the family. The scares in Poltergeist are bolstered by nicely-crafted characters and a story that is, in a weird and twisted way, rather inspiring.
CONTENT OVERVIEW: Poltergeist is rated PG-13. There's moderate language scattered here and there (a couple of s-words and a few religious exclamations). We see a wife in her tank top and panties; she jokes with her husband with some mild innuendo. They kiss, she tells him to take off his pants and he starts to do so, but they're interrupted by a child (the tone of the scene is more silly and affectionate than erotic). There's plenty of frightening moments and images, including slimy, skeletal apparitions, children attacked by household objects, and a man hallucinating that maggots, worms, and slime are coming out of his eyes, ears, nose, mouth, etc.
MESSAGES TO DISCUSS: Love for others, especially family members, can help us to overcome fear and find courage. Be responsible for your mistakes and do everything you can to make things right. Do not run from your problems or abandon the people you care for; instead, unite with others and face difficulty head-on.
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