Dear Steven Spielberg,
This is a milestone in your career – the first time one of your films has ever been re-made. The proposition must have felt… otherworldly. Someone comes along and tells you they can reconnect with a long deceased property and bring it back to life. You were probably confused and skeptical. Could it really be done? Surely these hucksters were only looking to make a buck. But your confusion probably gave way to curiosity, then suspense, culminating with: “Sure, why not give it a try. It can’t hurt, right?”
Yes it can. It can hurt a lot.
Director Gil Kenan’s Poltergeist almost makes the first film worse by association. That said, I’m not someone who holds the original film from 1982 on a pedestal. I saw it for the first time three or four years ago, well past its best-before date, though I enjoyed the film’s attention to small character detail and world-building, not to mention the patience in storytelling. You can certainly take credit for that. Even your original inspiration – the now all-too-familiar image of a young child being demonically seduced by a television screen, which has almost spawned its own horror sub-genre – is something I could still appreciate. Not to mentionthe film having some great in-camera effects.
But stacked kitchen chairs don’t pack the same punch they used to. So it’s understandable that a studio would want to capitalize on the name and “update” the story and effects for a new generation. But they couldn’t have done so in a more half-assed way.
First to blame might be the lead casting. Sam Rockwell is a fine actor in many roles, but his sarcastic and detached persona is completely at odds with the film’s tone once the plasma hits the fan. If his father character can’t get visibly worked up about his daughter being sucked into a television, why the hell should I? Rockwell probably behaves as the script requires – we’ve all seen this story before, so let’s just get past it to the all-important action beats – but the film is infinitely worse as a result. His jump from dismissive doubter to “well okay, time to just deal with it” feels like it mirrors the way you probably approached the remake in the first place. No wonder you came to mind so much watching the film.
It’s surely not because of any of the film’s technical accomplishments. Once we go into the parallel universe (well before that, actually), I had completely checked out of the story. Trees attack, dolls jump on faces, and arms reach out of gunk in the floor - but none of it is handled with an ounce of conviction. Making the film competent-looking just isn’t enough.
Of course you didn’t direct the original, but you did you did come up with the original concept, plus you have a screenwriting and producing credit. So I assume you had some control over this new film’s existence. You were smart enough not to take another producer credit, lest you shoulder some responsibility for the mess that’s now on screen, but still I lay the blame for this insulting resurrection at your feet. You nuked the TV – even at arm’s length.
Pulling the chord,