Well, the little girl gets it.
Kennedi Clements plays Maddy Bowen, the child trapped between the real world and the afterlife in the new version of Poltergeist, and gives us wild-eyed terror we can hang onto and a blood-curdling scream that will haunt your nightmares.
The rest of the players? They sort of shrug it off. Sam Rockwell, as the father of the missing child, lands his laughs. But he, Rosemarie DeWitt, Jane Adams (as a paranormal academic) and others underreact to the stunning evidence of a supernatural menace in a way one can only describe as blase.
Were they unimpressed with the effects, to be added in later? Or perhaps they’re as overfamiliar with this story as the rest of us: a subdivision, built over a graveyard, a house in which proactive ghosts — poltergeists — talk to a child through a static-ridden TV and snatch her through her closet.
The 1982 Tobe Hooper/Steven Spielberg film is an oft-telecast classic. But generations have been exposed to the plot and its loopiness, thanks to reruns of The Simpsons. Hard to get too worked up about a Treehouse of Horror tale.
David Lindsay-Abaire’s script is full of “We can’t go to the cops” excuses designed to explain why the family whose little girl vanishes in the middle of a thunderstorm doesn’t do so. The assault on the family, limited to the kids, comes all at once — after fraidy-cat middle kid (Kyle Catlett) has seen plenty of evidence the place is spooked. And the spooks themselves are not suggested, but revealed fully, lessening the fear even further.
A nearby college conveniently has a “Paranormal Studies” department, but obvious foreshadowing tells us the TV ghost hunter, Carrigan Burke (Jared Harris, not bad), will be “the cavalry” the Bowen family eventually calls in.
The 3-D frights — a grasping tree, the maw of hell, skeletal hands and faces reaching for children — are what you’d expect from the director of the animated (and superior) Monster House. Gil Kenan has to take the blame for the performances, though.
Best effect this time? Shadowy hands pressed against an HDTV screen, from the INSIDE. Worst effect? That cast, model-pretty and inexpressive, even when all hell is breaking loose.
Director: Gil Kennan
Cast: Sam Rockwell, Rosemarie DeWitt, Kennedi Clements, Kyle Catlett, Saxon Sharbino, Jared Harris
Rated: PG-13 (intense frightening sequences, brief suggestive material and some mild language)
Running time: 93 min.