A middling muddle of CGI spooks and mid-level laughs, Haunted Mansion is only just saved by its charismatic cast and occasional moments of genuine energy.
Theme park fans will likely be looking forward to Disney’s Haunted Mansion. So much so that they might forget to ask perfectly logical questions such as: “Why is this children’s horror movie coming out in July?” and “Why is Jared Leto in this?”
Of course, the latest of the House of Mouse’s new movies acts as more of an homage to the famous park ride than the 2003 iteration. The topsy-turvy building, reminiscent of the Winchester House, often moves and changes, flinging the characters from one end of the mansion to another. There’s ghostly antics here for sure, and the tiny details would be enough to bring a giggle to the most enthusiastic of Haunted Mansion fans.
But the average cinemagoer (and younger crowd that the movie is aimed toward) probably won’t get enough of a kick out of the fanboying to consider this one of the best family movies on offer.
The premise is this: a mother and son inexplicably buy an obviously incredibly haunted mansion on Zillow, only to turn up and immediately understand that their new home is littered with ghosts and ghouls. They enlist the help of spectral photographer Ben, who realizes that once he steps into the mansion, he too becomes haunted. But he’s not the only one, and this unlikely group of strangers must work together to uncover the mystery of the house before the full moon.
One of the biggest appeals of Haunted Mansion is the A-list collective assembled to be our guides through the ghostly residence. LaKeith Stanfield leads as jaded tour guide Ben Matthias, while Tiffany Haddish’s medium Harriet, Owen Wilson’s scheming Father Kent, and Danny DeVito’s bumbling Professor Bruce make up the rest of the ghost-hunting ‘dream team’ to assist a mother and son duo (played by Rosario Dawson and Chase Dillon).
The assembly of these stars works well, but not often enough. Frankly, the best scenes are when they’re all in the same room, bouncing off one another and creating a genuinely charming rapport. It’s puzzling, then, as to why the movie is determined to keep separating them.
LaKeith Stanfield is (as always) the strongest performer in the room, constantly reminding the audience that he’s made a name for himself by always being the on-screen anchor, pulling the audiences’ gaze towards him, even if he’s simply standing in the background. Tiffany Haddish also stands out as the opulent and vocal Harriet, bringing life to a character archetype we’ve seen a hundred times before. Wilson gets a few earnest chuckles, but of all his best comedy movies, it won’t be one that’s remembered.
Although this movie has no connections to the 2003 Eddie Murphy venture, it’s impossible not to compare. And while the older Haunted Mansion left much to be desired in all aspects, it’s still astounding that a cast of five talented actors working in tandem still can’t match the vibrance and sheer comedic force that Murphy could accomplish alone.
All the best laughs come from the real-world interactions, such as Stanfield and DeVito visiting a police sketch artist, or Stanfield, Wilson, and Dillon attending a needlessly long tour of the villainous ghosts’ old home (which, incidentally, include some enjoyable cameos). In these moments, the movie makes reference to its own ridiculousness, and although meta-commentary in movies these days is a rightfully dying trend, it might have elevated things here.
Haunted Mansion makes a noble attempt to be both funny and scary, but doesn’t really end up excelling on either side. What’s left is a result that may be too frightening for very young children, and not funny enough for older audiences — a combination that stinks of box office death.
Mind you, there are a handful of frightening moments, such as the horrific jump scare of seeing Jared Leto’s name pop up in the opening credits. But it’s an irrational fear, really, since Leto is completely absent from the film, appearing only in CGI ghost form with an unrecognizable voice. It’s baffling.
For all its flaws, it can’t be denied that Haunted Mansion was made with some semblance of care. The whodunnit-style ghost story feels purposeful. The cast are able to showcase their individual career personas. There’s an attempt made at a sincere emotional backstory which, thanks to a certain performance, does in fact get off the ground.
But all this can’t make the movie more than what it is: an adaptation of a theme park ride. It’s fun while you’re on it, but doesn’t mean much once you’ve stepped off.
For some genuine scares, take a look at everything we know about The Exorcist: Believer release date or Five Nights at Freddy’s release date and see why we think the Evil Dead movies might be the best in the horror genre.
Or, if you want some laughs, take a look at all the best comedy movies and best comedy series to watch now. Alternatively, see everything new on Disney Plus this month, and see what we consider to be the best movies of all time.