If you've seen the original Poltergeist, skip this paragraph, because this movie is the closest thing to a scene for scene remake since the Psycho remake. Family moves into house, house is built on cemetery, angry spirits steal daughter, etc. The only major difference is for some reason they specify it's a cemetery and not an ancient Indian burial ground. So don't worry audience, the ghosts (sorry, Poltergeists) you're meant to hate are just another group of ambiguously motivated white people.
The Poltergeists of Poltergeist continue the trend that plagues modern haunted house movies, in that they're more mean-spirited than evil. They spend the majority of the movie pulling harmless, spooky pranks, rather than possessing, murdering or doing anything generally threatening. When the evil tree gently sets a boy down instead of dropping him from the air and maybe breaking his arm, I realized that nobody was in peril. Skater Bam Margera is more threatening in the Jackass films than the Poltergeists are here (at least Bam shoots off some fireworks).
In fact, the family’s reaction to the aforementioned spiritual pranksters actually sort of fits with that idea. With the daughter being held in some sort of purgatory, everyone else seems pretty relaxed and indifferent. Sam Rockwell, God of the quip, master of wit, is used as a sort of comic relief. This is something he does (and has always done) very well. However, when his character’s daughter is being tormented by Poltergeists, his wry attitude causes the movie's tone to be very uneven.
In the end, there are some moments of spookiness and a few enjoyable chuckles to be had in Poltergeist. But if the audience isn't worried about anything bad happening, a horror movie has failed. Considering how strong recent horror movies like It Follows or Unfriended have been, there's really no reason to rewatch a movie that was scarier in the 80s.
Quick review: The Poltergeist remake adds very little to the original film, and detracts so very much from it.
To read Taylor's retrospective review of the original Poltergeist trilogy, click here.