Review: Poltergeist

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DIR: Gil Kenan • WRI: David Lindsay-Abaire • PRO: Nathan Kahane, Roy Lee, Sam Raimi, Robert G. Tapert • DOP: Javier Aguirresarobe • ED: Jeff Betancourt, Bob Murawski • DES: Kalina Ivanov • MUS: Marc Streitenfeld • CAST: Sam Rockwell, Jared Harris, Rosemarie DeWitt

 

Having not actually seen the 1982 Poltergeist, I was looking forward to attending the reboot with a pair of fresh eyes and no lingering attachment to the original. There was no umbilical cord to wrap around my neck due to some nostalgic obligation to the Spielberg/Hooper classic if expectations weren’t adequate. It was an early screening so I grabbed my coffee and spare undies in case the supernatural antics got a bit too much for me. Suffice to say, I left clean as a whistle without even breaking a sweat. Not one emasculated jump was given and at the end of the day that is the primary function of any horror movie.

 

The new Poltergeist is a contemporary take directed by Gil Kenan. It stars Sam Rockwell as the sarcastic, boozy father and Rosmarie DeWitt as the fretting mother, who have toned down a financial notch by moving into downscale house. They have three children. The adorable little girl, Kennedi Clements, the chicken shit son, Kyle Catlett, and the stubborn teen, Saxon Sharbino. This is a disaster already, without the ghouls. As expected, things go bump in the night and the terror begins. Kenan is premature with the suspense, which would be fine if the big scares actually worked.

 

Sam Raimi produced the film and you can see elements of his technique lending influence, but it lacks any of the spontaneity and speed that Raimi utilises within his own movies.  We never feel like we are in any danger. Kenan nurtures the audience too much, forbidding inventive imagination to leave the nest. For instance, the contemporary setting should give way to a huge amount of frightening possibilities. The poltergeist possess the house’s electric utilities in order to intimidate the family, and even though the new technology is haunted, it is never applied to great effect. We only get a glimpse of an iPhone or a flat screen television acting up, and sure my phone does that every single day anyway. Instead, we get stuffed toy pigs and sinister looking clown dolls going on a rampage as if we didn’t see that fifty years ago.

 

The performance don’t wield our attention either. Rockwell is the only mildly entertaining character, but even the kids don’t make us fear for them. A familiar ensemble of characters come into play in the third act, paranormal investigators and an exorcist (with an atrocious Irish accent), who come to help the family with their electricity problem. This set up was becoming too similar to James Wan’s excellent possession movie The Conjuring, with these ghostbusters bringing their hip new tech gear to try save the day. (Funnily enough, the poltergeist don’t seem to try possess any of those gadgets) The Conjuring depicted how tedious and traumatising the entire process of exorcism really is, whereas Poltergeist makes it seem like a picnic.

 

Poltergeist is a mild PG-13 rated horror film, which is difficult to pull off for sure. But, it wasn’t gore I was searching for, but rather any form of imagination or creativity with the vast amount of possibilities the filmmakers could have taken advantage of in this modern framework. Why not possess an E-Cigarette, the Wii or a George Foreman Grill? I’d pay to see that.

Cormac O’Meara


15A (See IFCO for details)

93 minutes
Poltergeist is released 22nd May 2015

Poltergeist – Official Website

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YCmAaNk_iIQ

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Men, Women & Children

Still from Men, Women & Children

DIR: Jason Reitman • WRI: Jason Reitman, Erin Cressida Wilso • PRO: Jason Reitman, Helen Estabrook, Jason Blumenfeld, Michael Beugg, Mason Novick • DOP: Eric Steelberg • ED: Dana E. Glauberman • CAST: Adam Sander, Rosemarie DeWitt, Jennifer Garner, Judy Greer, Ansel Elgort, Kaitlyn Dever, Olivia Crocicchia, Emma Thompson

 

Men, Women & Children sees former wunderkind Jason Reitman return to a contemporary subject, after a baffling diversion into romantic melodrama with last year’s Labour Day. Unfortunately, Men, Women & Children is a far cry from Reitman’s masterpiece, 2011’s thrillingly tart Charlize Theron vehicle, Young Adult. Like Reitman’s other more successful features, Juno (2007) and Up in the Air (2009), Young Adult was a character study with a fairly narrow focus. Men, Women & Children, by contrast, is a multi-stranded portmanteau piece, in the vein of Paul Haggis’s Crash (2004) or Alejandro Gonzáles Inárritu’s Babel (2006). Although ostensibly lighter in tone than either of those films, Men, Women & Children dutifully replicates their central oxymoron – attempting to vindicate the diversity of human interaction by reducing it to a schematic.

 

Orbiting around the idea of how technology facilitates the increasing isolation of the very people it claims to connect, Men, Women & Children hones in on a selection of suburbanites in present day Texas, including a jaded married couple played by Adam Sandler and Rosemarie DeWitt, a pair of disaffected teenagers played by Ansel Elgort and Kaitlyn Dever, and two contrasting mothers, one of whom (Jennifer Garner) tirelessly monitors and restricts her daughter’s internet and phone use, while the other (Judy Greer) prostitutes her nubile daughter’s image on a subscription website. A trite framing device, in which the travails of these people are cross-cut with the progress of the Voyager satellite through space, seems to suggest that their interactions are emblematic of present day human society in general. In so doing, the film sets out to debunk the myth of the “global village”, while unselfconsciously perpetuating the false notion that new-technology communications are a genuinely global phenomenon. Emma Thompson’s narration, which sets descriptions of space exploration alongside observations of the masturbatory habits of middle-aged Texan fathers, underscores the point, although the self-satisfied smirk with which it is delivered doesn’t make the medicine go down any easier.

 

The film suffers from the curious problem of feeling didactic about nothing in particular. Many critics have read it as alarmist or hectoring, although that doesn’t seem to be quite accurate. Instead, Men, Women & Children attempts to cultivate a kind of studied neutrality, presenting its “findings” without explicit comment – at least until the very end, which wraps things up in a sentimental bow. The problem with this approach is that not one of the film’s observations is new, and its technique – in which artificial suspense is created by cross-cutting multiple story arcs in an attempt to disguise that each one is predictable as a metronome – undermines the quality of its performances. Sandler and DeWitt, particularly, are very good, given how little they have to work with; Judy Greer, likewise, makes something uncomfortably credible of a part that could easily have slid into caricature.

 

It’s a shame, however, that Reitman is more concerned with a banal thesis based on flattening the differences between people, than with the kind of drama that emerges from their complexity. Substituting characters for specimens, Men, Women & Children is as reductive as the new media it examines. There’s a certain grim irony, then, in the inevitable social media marketing campaign, which invited people to distil their inner thoughts to 135 characters and tag them with “#mwc”. Judging by the film’s disastrous performance at the U.S. box office, it seems not many people were interested. Perhaps they pre-emptively took Reitman’s message to heart, put down their smart-phones, and talked to each other instead – presumably about a film that had something more interesting to say.

 

David Turpin

16 See IFCO for details)
119 minutes.
Men, Women & Children is released 5th December.

Men, Women & Children – Official Website

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