Haunted Mansion - New Release Review
Director: Justin Simien
Starring: LaKeith Stanfield, Rosario Dawson, Tiffany Haddish, Danny DeVito, Owen Wilson, Jamie Lee Curtis
Written by: Katie Dippold
Produced by: Jonathan Eirich, Dan Lin
Cinematography by: Jeffrey Waldon
Original Score by: Kris Bowers
A single mom named Gabbie hires a tour guide, a psychic, a priest and a historian to help exorcise her newly bought mansion after discovering it is inhabited by ghosts.
Whenever I was a kid and first visited Walt Disney World, my parents took me to the Haunted Mansion ride. Of course, being 8, I found the whole thing terrifying. The stretching room, the body hanging from the roof and the promise of no escape; I was already a cry-baby kid, but all this sent me over the edge. Obviously as I got older and made more visits back to the attraction, I learned that it wasn’t designed to kill me and it was actually a pretty fun ride. It’s quite old fashioned now but the ride has its charm and it’s been a fan favourite since day one. This isn’t the Mansions first run at the box office. In 2003 Disney released 'The Haunted Mansion' starring Eddie Murphy, which got hounded by critics and audiences at the time, yet still doing decent at the box office. So, 20 years later, can Disney take another trip to the Mansion and make something that audiences, fans and critics will love? The short answer...No.
Justin Simien is the director here and it’s very clear from the first few scenes that he might be in over his head. I enjoyed Simien's previous film 'Bad Hair' and know that he’s capable making a good horror film. There are some flourishes here and there that are clearly Simien’s vision, like having POC protagonists and giving them emotionally tragic backgrounds, but then you can feel Disney’s corporate fingers meddling. For example, our main character Ben (LaKeith Stanfield) is giving a heartfelt speech about his wife passing away, and halfway through the monologue he namedrops Baskin and Robbins for some cheap product placement. It’d be fine if it was part of the story but it feels so out of place to the point that it’s distracting. I hope you find it funny watching Owen Wilson going to Burger King before the final act because that also happens.
Speaking of actors, everyone in this film just feels miscast. LaKeith never feels like he’s comfortable in any scene. It’s a role more suited to someone like Kevin Hart, someone who can naturally bring more energy. LaKeith, who I absolutely love in everything else, looks like he just woke up 5 minutes before every scene was filmed. Owen Wilson and Danny Devito are both going through the motions here, delivering their usual schtick, which CAN be fun, but we’ve seen it all before in far better films. Rosario Dawson does a fine job as always and the “cameos” like Jamie Lee Curtis, Jared Leto and Daniel Levy all just seem so out of place. Curtis especially, who plays Madame Leota, could have been great if the CGI they use around her head didn’t look so terrible. The CGI in general just looks cheap and terrible to the point that the 2003 film looks better than this. In a way the 2003 film nails the idea of Haunted Mansion much better than this film. This version is filled with more ride easter eggs for sure but sadly easter eggs don’t make for a good film.
The movie makes so many odd choices that don’t make for an interesting film. Like for example, all of the cast dress like they’re from the 1920’s yet the film is based in modern day. There’s no rhyme or reason to it, and when they’ve to interact with anything or anyone outside of the mansion, they look so out of place. There’s also a basic lack of understanding about the ride, for example, the caretaker and his dog are ghosts in the film, yet on the ride they’re very much alive. The Hatbox Ghost is also the main villain here, yet that character has appeared in the ride for many years. The whole film is like a jigsaw that they just shoved together and hoped nobody would notice that none of it works.
The biggest crime with the film is that it’s just not fun and lacks any sort of forward energy. The past Disney ride-based films (Pirates of the Carribean, Haunted Mansion, Jungle Cruise) all matched the energy of the rides they’re based on; always pushing forward, always building excitement. This film just feels like someone ticking boxes based on imagery from the ride and not caring how or why they’re appearing.
If I had any positives about the film it’d be that it’s a decent gateway horror film for young ones. In a way, the film is harmless but that’s almost exactly the problem. In better hands, this concept could be fun, scary and exciting, just like the ride is. Unfortunately this feels more like being on a broken down and you just want to get off.
- Adam Neeson
'Haunted Mansion' is currently in UK/Ireland cinemas right now