IT'S HARD TO OVER ESTIMATE the wondrous damage that Steven Spielberg and Tobe Hooper's Poltergeist has done to tender young brains over the years, transplanting the creaks and groans of the Old Dark House genre and moving them directly under your bed. Even if the technology in the film has moved on, the movie remains timeless. That said, here's a remake! While not exactly necessary, it thankfully carries over the deviant wit of its namesake, in a way that the modern found-footage movement has largely neglected.
Cannily inverting the original's Reaganomic glow, the plot finds a downturned family reluctantly moving to a fixer-upper in the suburbs, only to discover anew the dangers of standing too close to the TV. Director Gil Kenan, whose animated Monster House displayed a healthy Spielbergian aura, shows a similarly deft touch here, quickly sketching out the geography while judiciously doling out the jump scares. He's greatly aided by a cast full of indie-film staples (including Sam Rockwell, Rosemarie DeWitt, and Jane Adams) who do a terrific job finding empathetic character beats within the film's modern, ADD pacing. (The only real bummer is Jared Harris, whose two-fisted reality show exorcist proves to be nowhere near as weird as Zelda Rubinstein. But then again, how could he be?)
Flattering imitation can only go so far, really, and viewers familiar with the original can be forgiven for wondering why they should venture out when the first one is most likely on TBS right now. Give credit to Kenan & Co., though, for cleverly exploring the spooky side of today's gizmos—cell phones, drones—and occasionally hitting a shiver-worthy image wholly of their own devising. (The glimpses of The Other Side carry a genuine squicky charge.) Spielberg and Hooper's suburban gothic still reigns supreme, but this agreeable revamp ultimately offers enough tweaks to the source material to justify its existence.
Besides, even if you already believe clown dolls should be expunged from the earth, a little more confirmation can't hurt.