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What the critics are saying: ‘Poltergeist’

ABOVE: Watch the trailer for Poltergeist.

TORONTO — In cinemas now is a reboot of Poltergeist, the 1982 paranormal thriller that grossed more than $75 million and spawned two sequels and a TV series.

The new version, directed by Gil Kenan (Monster House), was filmed in Toronto and Hamilton in 2013 (with re-shoots completed in August 2014) and originally scheduled to be released last November.

It stars Sam Rockwell and Rosemarie DeWitt as a couple who move their three children to a new house, where they are terrorized by supernatural forces. When the youngest child (Kennedi Clements) goes missing, the family turns to paranormal investigators from the local college and a well-known ghost hunter (Jared Harris).

Is the new Poltergeist frightfully better or worse than the original? Here’s a look at some of the reviews.

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“They’re ba-a-a-ck,” wrote Stephen Witty of ArtiSyndicate. “But who asked ’em?”

He continued: “On the long list of movies nobody needed to remake, you could definitely place the 1982 Poltergeist. It had cool characters, a decent idea, perfectly fine special effects and several quotable lines – all under the supervision of producer, writer (and guiding force) Steven Spielberg.”

Witty said “weak” reboot is more than 20 minutes shorter than the original “and it saved most of that time by sacrificing the beginning and end.”

He wrote: “This version seems to be in such a hurry to be over, it doesn’t give us either. All in all, it has the feeling of a movie someone had second thoughts about, and maybe fiddled with a bit in the ending room.”

At Variety, Andrew Barker also noted the shorter run time and complained the movie “has hardly even established its characters’ names before the kids are already being attacked by demonic clown dolls and reanimated corpses, and Madison, magnetically drawn to a malfunctioning TV set, is quickly abducted by the house’s malevolent spirits.”

Barker said Poltergeist has “some quality jump scares” and the “generally unnecessary” 3D “sometimes adds an extra layer of claustrophobia to the creeping interior shots.”

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Eddie Goldberger of the New York Daily News, though, called the 3D “completely unnecessary” and said the effect “adds nothing.”

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Still, he didn’t hate the movie, calling it “a fun, worthy horror entry.”

Goldberger wrote: “It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but Poltergeist is a solid, surprisingly effective chiller that’s respectful towards its 1982 predecessor while acquitting itself as a proficient update.”

At Screen Crush, Matt Singer said Poltergeist is “a solid modernization” of the original.

“It’s totally superfluous, and not nearly as satisfying as the original, but well-performed and effective in its own way,” he wrote.

“It’s nice (or, in this case, deeply unsettling) to revisit an old classic in a new arrangement.”

Singer praised Rockwell’s performance and his chemistry with DeWitt — and had kind words for Kenan.

“There’s no doubt Kenan understands how to wring every last jolt out of an audience. It’s too bad he’s got to waste that gift remaking a movie instead of delivering something original,” he wrote.

“That’s Hollywood these days; instead of making the next Poltergeist, they just make another Poltergeist.”

Jesse Hassenger  of A.V. Club also credited Kenan’s directing.

“When the scares start, Kenan does stage them with some spook-house brio,” he opined.

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“Though his film is more technically proficient than truly scary, Kenan has a clear sense of fun.”

Hassenger described the new Poltergeist as “a decent horror movie is it didn’t already exist.”

He wrote: “Though Rockwell and DeWitt give the material their own likable spin, most of the story mechanics will be familiar to anyone who has seen the original Poltergeist.”

READ MORE: What the critics are saying about other recent movies

Calling the movie “a case of horror vacui,” The Guardian reviewer Phil Hoad said it “chucks in everything but the ectoplasm-smeared sink in its search for new audiences.”

Jake Wilson at the Sydney Morning Herald would evidently agree.

“Remaking the 1982 horror film Poltergeist wasn’t necessarily a bad idea, but this new version feels like too little, too late,” he wrote.

“The new Poltergeist comes off as a semi-honourable hack job – a straightforward retread with a certain amount of craft.”

At Glide Magazine, James Roberts admitted he was expecting Poltergeist to be a terrible movie.

“It did not disappoint,” he opined.

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“The only thing impressive about this remake is its staggering mediocrity.”

Comparisons to the original aside, Roberts said, “there aren’t enough legs to carry this film for five minutes, let alone the entire hour and a half of the film’s duration.”

He called it “a cringe worthy descent into banality.”

John Nolte of Breitbart seconded that emotion.

“The central premise makes no sense,” he wrote.

“We understood why, out of every family home in the subdivision, the spirits attacked [the original film’s] family. Dad was the realtor who sold the homes. He might not have known his development company lied about removing the bodies from the cemetery. Nonetheless, there’s a logic behind targeting the company’s top salesman. In the remake, no one in the family has anything to do with anything.”

Nolte confessed he was so bored by the reboot he fell asleep.

“Sometime later I woke up. But just for a moment. There was a lot of noise and light and actors running from special effects they obviously couldn’t see,” he recalled.

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Nolte concluded the new Poltergeist “is noisy and full of cheap effects and cheap jump scares that don’t scare.

“The experience is also claustrophobic — all of it obviously taking place on a soundstage. And not a single moment between the family felt real.”

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