REVIEW — “Haunted Mansion”
Based on the classic Disneyland attraction, Disney’s Haunted Mansion is both sleepy and hollow.
The ‘Nawlins-set horror-comedy stars LaKeith Stanfield as Ben, a grieving astrophysicist who has designed a camera that can photograph ghosts, as well as a cynical outlook on life after the (offscreen) death of his wife. He is recruited by Father Kent (Owen Wilson) to help free single mom Gabby (Rosario Dawson) and her son, Travis (Chase W. Dillon), of the ghosts that have trapped them in their recently purchased haunted mansion on the edge of town.
A mild and middling family film of squandered talent and potential, Haunted Mansion will likely please Easter egg-hungry Disney theme park diehards with its satisfyingly spooky events, scenery, music, and characters ripped straight from the popular ride. The film also features excessive product placement and distracting brand integration. From Burger King and Baskin-Robbins to CVS and Costco, these busted ghosts haven’t met a Yankee Candle they won’t light. Played for cheap laughs, it’s like the filmmakers either wanted free stuff or didn’t know how to say no to a sponsor.
Directed by Justin Simien from a script by Katie Dippold, Haunted Mansion tries hard to be compelling through Ben’s grief over the loss of his wife; however, the emotion is unearned and falls flat. Similarly, the rest of the leading cast lacks depth with Wilson, Tiffany Haddish, and Danny DeVito essentially playing themselves as a conman priest, sassy psychic, and cranky professor, respectively. Jamie Lee Curtis also shows up as the poorly-CGI’d head of Madame Leota.
While the film’s other ghostly special effects look appealing, the plot is often so disinteresting that I found myself thinking of other family-friendly horror films that served the genre better, like Casper (1995). Even the 2003 version starring Eddie Murphy had a few decent scares. The film doesn’t really get rolling until its main villain, Hatbox Ghost (Jared Leto), shows up. His appearance ups the stakes and sends this crew of misfit ghostbusters on a mystery to discover his identity, which unfortunately results in a predictably lackluster finale that lacks sacrifice and resonance.
Spooky but sluggish, Haunted Mansion could have been a lot scarier and a lot more fun, but its grim ghosts and silly scares will only leave devoted fans grinning. Those in the mood for a good scare should instead see Talk to Me or Insidious: The Red Door, but if you desire family friendly frights, you could do worse than this giddy and ghastly ride. However, Disney could also do a lot better. 2/5
Rated PG-13 with a running time of 2 hours 2 minutes, Haunted Mansion opens in theaters on July 28, 2023.