why you need to see the new 'poltergeist' reboot

a film analysis

photos via MGM

Before we get into the new Poltergeist remake, let’s start off with a little Paranormal 101. Of the cornucopia of supernatural entities gracing the earth’s various spheres of consciousness, one of the most ubiquitous is the ghost. But of course, as with any label, there are so many different shades of ghost (dare I say 50?). Some linger like a broken memory, trapped in limbo between the terrestrial planes and the astral; others harbor more insidious intentions, resisting their ascent into the light, growing ever more envious and scornful of the living. Among this maleficent collection of specters floats the poltergeist, an entity that seeks nothing but to tear shit up. Picture flying furniture, exploding closets, clothes and trinkets strewn about, glowing orbs swirling about gaping portals into other dimensions (lol kinda sounds like my mess of a bedroom).

Back to the Poltergeist remake...

I don't know about you, but when I heard that this seminal horror film was going to get a reboot, something seemed amiss. A perpetual stream of young, creative people spill into L.A. on the daily (so surely there’s no shortage of new and inventive ideas for blockbuster movies). Unfortunately, the proliferation of reboots speaks only to the nature of the industry: prospective films with built-in audiences and marketing campaigns get greenlit while inventive screenplays are ignored and undervalued. With this in mind, I watch the trailer for the Poltergeist remake. 

The exquisitely crafted original featured Steven Spielberg at the helm and revolved around the paranormal abduction of a young girl, Carol Anne Freeling, from her suburban California family. As her existence is love, life, and purity manifest, her effervescent life force attracts the entities that haunt her house away from the salvation of the Light. Part of what made Poltergeist so seismic in the first place was that it helped set so many precedents in the horror genre, from little girls tinkering with TVs to investigating paranormal activity with home videos. So how could the reboot of such a legendary film transcend the genre it helped craft? 

There is only so much one can glean from the trailer, but there are definitely some glimmers of hope. Or is that just the orb in my room?   

THE SETTING 

The reboot is smart to retain the setting of the original: pre-fabricated suburban neighborhoods of assembly-line sameness. In general, when we imagine a haunted house, we think of decrepit creaking doors, dusty, cobweb-laced stairwells: a creepy old mansion. Thus, there’s a sort of comfort in the sterility of newness. No one has lived here before, and thus no one has died here before! We should be safe! But alas and alack—if there’s a will, there’s a way. 

THE CLOWN

Clowns never seem to herald much positivity in cinema, and all I can say is that I positively snapped my laptop shut at the sickening sight of reboot clown. The original clown  iconically catalyzes the climax, so it’s exciting to see that in the trailer, reboot clown partakes in new and exciting scenarios. Ultimately, a respectful reboot maintains the essence of the original while reinterpreting it through a fresh perspective. 

THE TECHNOLOGY 

Situating a reboot in a time period that differs from the original creates an opportunity to re-appropriate the role of technology. For example, the entities that abduct little Carrie Anne in the original communicate with her via television frequencies, which was surely terrifying as most households in '82 America held seemingly innocuous tv sets. However, as we see in the reboot trailer of 2015, a paranormal distortion ripples across the screen of a smartphone. This is arguably even worse, seeing as that I’m not so keen on opening a void in the pocket of my favorite jeans. Is that a ghost in your pocket or are you just happy to see me? Sheesh! 

TANGINA

Okay, this is where I can’t help but get my panties in a bunch. The exceptionally cast Tangina, the diminutive medium who fearlessly leads the Freeling family against forces (un)seen is replaced in the reboot by an Irish priest! Since religion wasn’t much of a player in 1982, it’ll surely be interesting to see how the mysticism of the Church will play into this otherworldly discourse, but I just can’t shake the feeling that I’ll sense the void left by Tangina’s mousy yet comforting presence.

All in all, this reboot descends from a legacy of greatness (may or may not be excluding the Poltergeist sequels, but still…), so it’s worth checking out—if only to see how it avoids the tempestuous portal to reboot hell.