Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Justin Simien
Stars: LaKeith Stanfield, Rosario Dawson, Tiffany Haddish, Owen Wilson, Danny De Vito, Jared Leto, Jamie Lee Curtis, Chase W Dillon, Creek Wilson, Charity Jordan.
Disney seems to be lacking in creativity at the moment because all they seem to produce are live action remakes of their animated classics, endless sequels and spin offs from some of their successful franchises and films based on their theme park rides. And now we get a rather cynical remake of a film based on a spooky theme park ride, with this so-so remake of 2003’s forgettable Haunted Mansion, which starred Eddie Murphy.
The film opens with Gabbie (Rosario Dawson, from Sin City, etc), a widowed single mother and doctor who moves to Gracey Manor, an antebellum mansion in New Orleans, intending to turn it into a bed and breakfast business. But when she arrives to check out the place she discovers it is haunted by ghosts. She approaches a number of supposed experts to help exorcise the place of its demons.
Ben (LaKeith Stanfield, from Judas And The Black Messiah, etc) is a former astrophysicist turned paranormal tour guide who operates a ghost tour of New Orleans, but he is still haunted by the memory of his late wife who used to run the tour. Ben is approached by Father Kent (Owen Wilson), an eccentric conman posing as a priest, to photograph the ghosts at the mansion using his special camera that can capture the “Ghost particle.” But he is skeptical of ghosts and initially is reluctant to become involved.
Gabbie eventually hires Harriet (Tiffany Haddish, from Night School, etc), a psychic, to exorcise the place. They steal blueprints of the mansion from Professor Davis (Danny De Vito), an expert on haunted houses, and discover a hidden séance room which Harriet uses to try and conjure up the spirit of the house’s former owner. They also face the evil and vengeful Alistair Crump, a headless spirit known as The Hatbox Ghost (Jared Leto) and have to find a way to break his hold over the house.
Written by Katie Dipold (The Heat, the female centric remake of Ghostbusters, etc), this new take on the concept draws more heavily upon some key elements from the theme park ride on which it is based. Haunted Mansion has been directed by Justin Simien (Dear White People, etc) but his pacing is uneven.
Simien has assembled a solid ensemble cast to flesh out the characters. Wilson brings his usual goofy laid-back style to his performance. Haddish’s character of the shonky medium should have been more over the top and outrageous, much along the lines of Whoopi Goldberg’s character in Ghost. The subplot in which Ben tries to form a connection with Gabbie’s young 9-year-old son Travis (Chase W Dillon), who misses his late father. brings some emotional heft to the material. De Vito brings his usual hyper energetic style to his role as the academic brought on board to try and explain what is happening, while Jamie Lee Curtis plays Madame Leota, a legendary medium who has been trapped inside a glass orb and who is largely responsible for unleashing the ghosts. Leto is largely wasted in his role as Crump, the former owner of the house.
But this remake of Haunted Mansion is a bit of a misfire and seems unsure of what audience it is aimed at. Because this is a family friendly offering, the horror is downplayed, while some other elements may prove to be too dark and not suitable for younger children. It is also too long and runs out of puff long before the conclusion. The film ultimately overloads on special effects, although some of the CGI work from Edwin Rivera and his team at ILM used in creating the spectral figures is underwhelming.