Movie Review: Disney's New 'Haunted Mansion' Is a Hot Mess – Vulture

Haunted Mansion.
Picture: Disney

Disney’s new Haunted Mansion is a sizzling mess, however it’s a sporadically entertaining one. Household-friendly horror-comedies have all the time been a troublesome subgenre: You want the scares to show your horror bona fides, however go too far and the youngsters will run screaming from the theater; rely an excessive amount of on comedy and also you’ll undermine the thrills. This one additionally comes with franchise expectations and a giant price ticket, because it’s based mostly on a theme-park attraction. (It’s the second such try, really. A tepid Eddie Murphy car was made again in 2003.) That’s lots to ask of any movie. It’s superb that something in Haunted Mansion works, even when most of it doesn’t.

At first, the melancholy charisma of LaKeith Stanfield won’t look like an excellent match for such materials. However Haunted Mansion seems at the very least partly to be about grief, and Stanfield lends a woebegone allure to Ben Matthias, an excellent astrophysicist working with darkish matter whose life falls aside after the dying of his fiancée. Now, he half-heartedly leads ghost tour guides round New Orleans, which was once her job. (As she notes of their opening scene collectively, they’re each making an attempt to see the unseen.)

Having as soon as developed a lens that may {photograph} darkish matter — a “ghost digital camera,” if you’ll — the grieving Ben is roped into serving to Gabbie (Rosario Dawson), a single mother who has moved into an deserted native mansion along with her introverted son, Travis (Chase W. Dillon), solely to find that it’s full of ghosts. Our mopey hero doesn’t actually need any a part of this, however he bonds with the shy Travis, who misses his father and is ostracized in school. Additionally, they’re principally trapped: As soon as the ghosts within the mansion come into contact with you, it appears, they comply with you round, as Ben discovers when he returns to his house and finds it changed into a raging ocean.

The crew grows to incorporate Father Kent (Owen Wilson), a dodgy exorcist; Harriet (Tiffany Haddish), a careless psychic; and Professor Bruce Davis (Danny DeVito), a hibachi-happy historian who occurs to be an skilled in haunted homes. That’s a recreation solid, and when the movie leaves them to their units, a sure camaraderie peeks via. The actors appear to be having enjoyable with each other, and their vitality often carries over to us as properly. Stanfield and Wilson specifically make a enjoyable comedian duo.

Different instances, nevertheless, Haunted Mansion falls prey to the identical downside as a number of VFX-driven horror motion pictures, which is that the actors don’t all the time appear like they know what they’re speculated to be reacting to. (Wilson is an outdated hand at this; he was in 1999’s bombastically slapdash The Haunting, exhibit A on this class.) Right here the difficulty is additional difficult by the truth that there’s little pressure round whether or not there are ghosts in the home; the place is actually swimming in them. That’s an attention-grabbing thought — an excellent one for a youngsters’ film — however the characters don’t a lot work together with the ghosts as simply type of stroll via and round them. Generally there’s a leap scare. Generally there’s a joke. More often than not, there’s nothing. The wasted potential right here is sufficient to make you scream.

The screenplay was written by Katie Dippold (The Warmth, the 2016 Ghostbusters), however one also can sense the hand of director Justin Simien (whose Pricey White Individuals stays one of many nice debut options of the previous decade) within the rising paternal bond between Ben and Travis, and the best way that emotional thread winds up paying off narratively. Alas, there’s not sufficient of that, both. Possibly Simien and Dippold pulled again of their very own accord. Or possibly sooner or later Disney determined the corporate didn’t need something too honest or emotionally weighty of their big theme-park film. Both means, it’s a mistake: The film has no core. With out characters to look after, Haunted Mansion is only a bunch of stuff.

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