Haunted Mansion

July 25th, 2023




AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 2 STARS (Out of 4)

This is the third version of a Haunted Mansion movie. The 2003 original with Eddie Murphy, followed by the 2021 Muppet version, and now we have an updated take from director Justin Simien. I’ve been on the Haunted Mansion ride before and it’s a fun mix of light scares and a ghostly experience for riders, but I never thought, “This would make a great movie” let alone three. The real question is what more could be done for a movie based on a ride at Disney World? The answer I got was not so much, but with a packed cast and updating the special effects, I had high hopes for a new Haunted Mansion. What we get is something that falls short of any expectations, with a story that runs too long, humor that never lands, and a talented cast of actors that is completely wasted. This Haunted Mansion is a ride I wanted to get off of quickly.

From the get-go, the tone is all over the place, with introductions to various characters, leaving you to wonder who the main character actually is. First, we meet Gabbie (Rosario Dawson) and her son Travis (Chase Dillon), moving into their new home in New Orleans. It looks terrifying from the outside and then the paintings on the wall start to move revealing that this house is certainly haunted. The problem, however, is once you enter the ghosts will follow, forcing them to return. They seek the help of a former scientist-turned-tour guide Ben (LaKeith Stanfield), a priest by the name of Father Kent (Owen Wilson) to perform an exorcist, a medium named Harriet (Tiffany Haddish), and a professor that studies haunted houses named Bruce (Danny DeVito). They gather at the mansion, some more skeptical than others, but all with the hope of turning this into a ghost-free mansion.

The screenplay, written by Katie Dippold and directed by Simien feels like more was bitten off than what could ever be chewed. There are various sub-plots going on at once. Ben struggles to recover after the death of his wife. Gabbie and Travis get settled in a new home after the death of Travis’ dad. Then there is the entire history of the Haunted Mansion. In between brief moments of ghosts in the manor jumping out of walls or a floating candle sticks in the air, the narrative interjects the history of the one-time owner of the estate Mr. Gracey and the spirit of the Hatbox Ghost (voiced/played by a CGI Jared Leto). All of this history, along with a seance session from Harriet with the help of the ghost Madame Leota (Jamie Lee Curtis), only drags down what should be an energetic narrative. Without some of the timely jokes from Wilson, an always delightful DeVito, and the mansion’s genuine set design, Haunted Mansion would be even worse.

The longer you sit with Haunted Mansion, the worse it becomes, not because the effort wasn’t there, but more because this was what Disney had to offer. Even the CGI ghosts and cinematography are lackluster. Although the mansion is supposed to be spooky, setting a tone for light shock, it is instead a visually ugly film. Unlike a movie such as The Haunting, which used its set to every inch of its ability, it’s impossible not to see that this mansion is all green screen and cobbled sets. And even worse, it arrives a week after Barbie, which has some of the best-set designs all year, and we think about what was squandered here instead.

What Haunted Mansion ultimately becomes is one big easter egg hunt for the die-hard fans of the ride. There is a greatly missed opportunity here as well, with a cast that all bring their brief moments of charm, but are squandered instead for a lot of standing around. It also should be a PG family flick that works as a gateway introduction to horror for little kids. Instead, it plays like an October movie, dumped in July, all because Disney wasn’t sure where to put it and that shows. There’s no propulsion to Haunted Mansion, not enough scares, and not enough care taken on what could have been a wonderful set. Now I guess we’ll just have to get back that thrill by going on the ride because this Haunted Mansion is neither a trick nor a treat. It’s all just empty thrills.



Written by: Leo Brady

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