Haunted Mansion (2023)
Director: Justin Simien
Screenwriter: Katie Dippold
Starring: LaKeith Stanfield, Rosario Dawson, Chase Dillon, Owen Wilson, Tiffany Haddish, Danny DeVito, Jared Leto
Ben (LaKieth Stanfield) is grieving, angry, lonely, and a cynic. A once-upon-a-time astrophysicist, who now runs lacklustre ghost tours in honour of his dead wife. So far, so haunted.
Gabbie (Rosario Dawson) and her son Travis (Chase Dillon) have just moved to the area. Unfortunately, the mansion (they can inexplicably afford as a jobless single-parent family) they’ve bought is plagued with furious ghosts hellbent on making their lives extremely difficult.
They call on Father Kent (Owen Wilson), a preacher who performs exorcisms as a side-hustle. When that fails, he summons a crack team led by Ben (LaKeith Stanfield), who in his astrophysicist days happened to invent a camera lens that can capture the image of ghosts… not that he believes in ghosts of course. Joining them are elaborately costumed medium Harriet (Tiffany Haddish) and local historian Bruce Davis (Danny DeVito). The premise is that they are an unlikely hexad of ghost hunters, though audiences have seen this combination – young, old, gung-ho, disbelieving, quirky, and straight-laced – so often that it is old hat.
What follows, is a loosely strung together plot of six hapless heroes taking on a dark spirit (Jared Leto), who is conveniently only one soul away from causing havoc among the mortal realm for all eternity.
It seems pertinent then that Bruce (Danny DeVito) is having heart surgery next week, Ben (LaKeith Stanfield) is intent on drinking himself into oblivion, Harriet (Tiffany Haddish) is ostracised and disbelieved, and Travis (Chase Dillon) is getting bullied at school. So many miserable souls ripe for the picking.
In an unusual move for a kid’s film, Travis (Chase Dillon) is not the hero. He needs rescuing. And Ben (LaKeith Stanfield) is the protagonist. It’s hard to fully decipher who this film is pitched at – the acting and jokes would suggest someone younger than the age rating allows for, while the existential dread, threat of eternal damnation, decapitations and suicides would suggest someone considerably older.
Haunted Mansion (2023) is not high art, and obviously was not intended to be a serious film, and with an age rating of 12 it is obviously not supposed to be a serious horror either. So, what is it? It isn’t scary, isn’t particularly funny, and isn’t drama…
Writer, Katie Dippold, is a dab hand at ghost stories, having penned the 2016 remake of Ghostbusters, and comedy, being one of the creative geniuses behind ‘Parks and Recreation’. Even her expertise couldn’t save this obviously write-by-numbers affair.
It is a great cast. Danny DeVito (Matilda), Jamie Leigh Curtis (Freaky Friday) and Tiffany Haddish (The Secret Life of Pets 2) are all veterans of well-remembered children’s films. LaKeith Stanfield has made a name for himself in some of the most exciting and critically acclaimed film and television to have come out in the last five years (Get Out, Judas and the Black Messiah). Rosario Dawson cuts her teeth on these sorts of campy action films all the time, and this is not Owen Wilson’s first dalliance with a haunted house. It should work.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t.
The brilliant cast and creative team ensure the film promises a lot, but the pay off isn’t there. The plot is disjointed, almost like it’s a rehash of a twenty-year-old film that was originally based on a fairground ride. It could almost be argued that this 2023 incarnation is completely unnecessary.
The twists can be seen coming a mile off, and the special effects are a bit cartoony. The product placements are jarring and further proof that this was more a cash-in project than a passion project. Yankee Candle, anyone?
It isn’t hard to see Haunted Mansion (2023) falling into the same category as Hocus Pocus 2 (2022), the recent Addams Family remake (2019), and Hotel Transylvania 3 (2018). Seasonal family films to consider once Casper (1995), Corpse Bride (2005), Hocus Pocus (1993) and Frankenweenie (2012) have already been watched.
It is just very hard to imagine it becoming a firm family favourite.