CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS
And yet another remake of a classic horror film (or an exploitable commercial property with a high audience recognition quotient that can be adequately monetised in the marketplace) trundles into town. In fact it's less of a remake than a tribute act, not so much a variation on the familiar theme as simply playing that theme again, with not enough changes for it to stand as a work in its own right. The end result is, perversely, a film that probably works better if you haven't seen the original, in which case it really shouldn't feel the need to adhere so close to it. Though some moments are replicated closely (such as the youngest child being sucked into the interdimensional portal thing) it's not shot for shot: this isn't a restaging like Van Sant's Psycho or Jamie Blanks' Long Weekend, and it's twenty minutes shorter than Tobe Hooper's film, but it doesn't bring anything particularly new to the table except arranging things slightly differently.
Most of the familiar motifs are still there: the tree, the clown doll, the TV set, the closet, the rope, "they're here" and "this house is clean". The Bowens (Sam Rockwell, Rosemarie De Witt and their three kids move into a nice suburban house and almost immediately spooky stuff starts to happen. It's all initially dismissed as nonsense or normal childhood behaviour, until the youngest child Madison (Kennedi Clements) is taken and they have to call in a team of paranormal researchers to rescue her and cleanse the house of whatever evil presence has taken root there...
Generally, I rather liked this new Poltergeist. The film appears to have been deliberately crafted to look like an eighties movie with enough lens flare to be noticeable but not so much as to be actively annoying, and edited together without dizzyingly rapid cutting, and the scraping strings score is decent enough though it's nowhere near Jerry Goldsmith's thundering music for the earlier version (both scores include a music box-style lullaby in places). It's also nice to see Jared Harris continuing to carve out a career in horror and fantasy movies (after The Quiet Ones, John Carpenter's The Ward and even one of the Resident Evil sequels), though in this instance he is taking the role of the unforgettable Zelda Rubinstein which is perhaps impossible to top so he wisely doesn't try. I didn't see it in 3D but there didn't seem to be any moments that cried out for the extra dimension effect and the flat version works perfectly well.
As a template haunted house movie that periodically yells Boo! in your ear, it does the job of making you throw your popcorn in the air and grab your date's arm perfectly well. It doesn't do very much that the original Poltergeist didn't do, and it doesn't really do anything that more recent hits like Insidious and The Conjuring didn't so either, but what it does is certainly effective enough: I jumped and covered my eyes exactly like you're supposed to, exactly like it wants you to. It's a decent enough multiplex jolt machine, but rather than make me want to watch it again, it's made me want to get the original on DVD. (The end credits acknowledge the original but only credit the story and screenplay; Tobe Hooper gets an injoke nod as the name of the local high school.)