Ben Matthias (LaKeith Stanfield) is an astrophysicist stranded in New Orleans. When he was younger, he met Alyssa (Charity Jordan) by chance at a bar whom he eventually married. Now Ben finds himself alone, hungover, and leading Alyssa’s ghost tours; all because he doesn’t have much else to live for these days.
Ben developed what was referred to as spectral photography, which is exactly what it sounds like; a camera that can take pictures of ghosts. After a single mother named Gabbie (Rosario Dawson) and her nine-year-old son Travis (Chase Dillon, The Harder They Fall) move into a mansion that they claim is haunted, Ben is tracked down by an easygoing priest named Kent (Owen Wilson) in an effort to make a quick $2000.
Now Ben, Kent, Gabbie, and Travis are trapped in a haunted mansion with local medium Harriet (Tiffany Haddish) and a college history professor with a heart problem named Bruce (Danny DeVito) as a treacherous phantom known as The Hatbox Ghost (Jared Leto) closes in on his final soul.
Directed by Justin Simien (Bad Hair, Dear White People) and written by Katie Dippold (Ghostbusters (2015), 31 episodes of Parks and Recreation), this theatrical adaptation of the Disneyland theme park ride has little to no connection to the 2003 adaptation that stars Eddie Murphy. Disney’s intention is to reboot the film in an effort to turn Haunted Mansion into its next big money franchise like Pirates of the Caribbean.
The film was originally going to be written by Guillermo del Toro as he was attached to write and produce. He turned in a script in August of 2012 that was thrown out when Katie Dippold signed on because it was believed to be too scary.
If you’ve ever seen a made for TV Disney Channel movie or even something on ABC Family (now known as Freeform), Haunted Mansion is essentially a $158 million version of that.
The Simien and Dippold version of Haunted Mansion is about as scary as an episode of Scooby-Doo and has big Hocus Pocus vibes. In short, there’s a few worthwhile elements but as a whole it’s a shoddy family comedy that tries too hard.
LaKeith Stanfield is phenomenal as Ben. His emotional range is impeccable and he’s easily the most relatable character in the film. His disbelief of ghosts based on never seeing one despite his consistent string of hosting ghost tours is one thing, but Ben hates people and is super awkward around them. The film eventually reveals why he is the way he is, but he was also never good around new people despite his intelligence and talent.
The most entertaining aspects of the film are the scenes that are clearly blatant references to the theme park ride; the three hitchhiking ghosts, the room that vertically stretches forever, the floating candle in the hallway, paintings that come to life, and the ghosts throwing a party in the dining room are just a few examples.
While Jared Leto is a bizarre actor who tends to be in the spotlight away from movies for all the wrong reasons, it’s easy to forget that he’s actually quite talented and can deliver worthwhile performances. The Hatbox Ghost is the highlight of the film. Leto’s voice and performance are creepy yet entertaining while the character is far more interesting while he’s still carrying his head in a box.
Meanwhile, most of the other ghosts teeter on being completely lame. The ghosts that resemble actual corpses, decay, walking skeletons, or actually have any sort of horrific element to them are fun but seem to be barely featured. The film chooses to showcase ghosts that look like normal, blue, transparent people; in other words, totally boring.
The Hatbox Ghost has also killed 999 individuals, which includes people and other ghosts. He needs one more to be set free and is at his strongest during the full moon. His last victim also has to be willing to give their life to him. It’s a lot of stupid rules that will honestly just leave you wanting to revisit Peter Jackson’s The Frighteners.
This is basically a serial killer in a Disney movie that likes to blow out candles and push people around in chairs.
The annoying thing about Disney movies like this is the overacting, which may circle back to how these films are written. Being scared means flailing your arms around, making silly faces, and talking in funny voices.
More emotional sequences have actors leaning too far into crying and babbling like idiots and there’s these motivational speeches that make you cringe and send shudders down your spine for all the wrong reasons. Haunted Mansion falls victim to all of these elements and it’s borderline unbearable.
LaKeith Stanfield steals every scene that he’s in while The Hatbox Ghost is one of the more menacing live-action Disney villains to be portrayed in quite some time. But Haunted Mansion is a PG horror comedy trapped in a PG-13 rating. It’s only PG-13 because it revolves around the supernatural. The exaggerated comedy is annoying and anything remotely scary is ruined by relentless buffoonery.
- LaKeith Stanfield.
- The Hatbox Ghost.
- The comedy is so bad.
- It’s a disappointment to the horror genre.
- The film feels like a big budget ABC Family movie.