Disney’s Haunted Mansion is slick and decently made, but it lacks the chills or personality to become a breakout hit.
PLOT: A woman and her son enlist a paranormal tour guide/inventor to help them rid their new home of an evil spirit.
REVIEW: Disney’s Haunted Mansion is another attempt to build a franchise out of one of their most famous rides. Heck, it worked pretty damn well for Pirates of the Caribbean and – to a certain extent – for Jungle Cruise. Of course, this isn’t the first Haunted Mansion flick, with Eddie Murphy leading a comedy version in 2003. This movie, from Justin Simien, is more serious than the Murphy version, aiming to deliver some legit thrills and chills, although it still has a reasonably comic vibe. Like many other Disney movies lately, it’s decent enough, even if it lacks the attitude to make an impact, as there’s nothing here you haven’t seen before.
Simien made a decent horror movie a couple of years ago called Bad Hair, which sadly didn’t have the crossover appeal of his first movie, Dear White People. Haunted Mansion is his attempt at a studio comedy, and it’s a very safe one, lacking any edge at all. For some reason, the MPAA slammed it with a PG-13 rating, although it’s tame enough that it could have easily warranted a PG. It’s a horror movie for kids, with a few mild jump scares but nothing that will give them nightmares.
Haunted Mansion suffers from coming out hot on the heels of Barbie, which seems primed to grab the tween audience that might have made this a hit (Disney should have released this closer to Halloween). LaKeith Stanfield is our lead, playing a scientist who’s discovered a lens that can photograph ghosts. He has a particular interest in the paranormal as his wife recently died, and he’s spending most of his days yelling at the tourists he leads around on her old New Orleans ghost tour. Stanfield is a terrific character actor, but he’s also famously low-key, which makes him a curious choice for the lead in a horror comedy. He delivers a nuanced, emotional performance which grounds the film – a bold choice for a movie like this. He mostly makes it work even though he seems a bit miscast in a role that should have been high-energy. By contrast Rosario Dawson is given little to do as Gabbie, the woman who finds herself haunted, along with her son Travis (Chase W. Dillon). She’s such a good actress that one wonders what the movie might have been like had she and Stanfield swapped parts, making her the paranormal investigator and him the concerned parent.
Everyone else plays to type, with Owen Wilson, a spacey priest helping Dawson and her son, while Danny DeVito plays a PG-rated version of Frank from It’s Always Sunny. Neither of them does anything here that you haven’t seen from them a million times before. That said, at least Wilson gets to keep his head this time, as he didn’t fare quite so well the last time he was in a haunted house movie. Tiffany Haddish is the most memorable part, as a kind-of phoney psychic who delivers the kind of broad performance a movie like this needs, but also has some pathos. As one of the ghosts (albeit a good one), Jamie Lee Curtis contributes little more than an extended cameo, while Jared Leto plays the movie’s big bad (*The Hatbox Ghost”), a fallen aristocrat who wants revenge on the society that shunned him. Given that it’s so CGI heavy with an affected “scary” voice, it’s hard for him to really make a huge impression in the role.
What’s annoying about Haunted Mansion is how drawn out everything seems. There’s no reason for a movie like this to run over two hours and for scenes to drag on. While the film is peppered with fun cameos from people like Winona Ryder, I couldn’t help but be nostalgic for when a movie like this would have been a quick, entertaining ninety minutes.
In the end, Haunted Mansion is a movie that should play decently on Disney Plus but seems unlikely to bring folks out to theatres. Releasing it in the thick of the summer movie season was a bad move, but were this a little tighter and a bit scarier, it could have been a good Halloween family flick.
Originally published at https://www.joblo.com/haunted-mansion-review/