Haunted Mansion (2023)
Haunted Mansion (2023)

Genre: Horror Comedy Running Time: 2 hrs. 2 min.

Release Date: July 28th, 2023 MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: Justin Simien Actors: LaKeith Stanfield, Rosario Dawson, Owen Wilson, Tiffany Haddish, Danny DeVito, Jamie Lee Curtis, Chase Dillon, Jared Leto

 


 

A

fter successful astrophysicist and inventor Ben Matthias (LaKeith Stanfield) suffers a tragic personal loss, his life quickly spirals downward. Years pass and Ben, now a bitter tour guide in New Orleans, spies an opportunity to make some quick cash when priest Father Kent (Owen Wilson) approaches him with an offer to assist in exorcising a haunted house. But when the skeptic steps foot in Gracey Manor, now owned by single mother Gabbie (Rosario Dawson) and her young son Travis (Chase Dillon), he soon realizes that this is no ordinary dilapidated building. Teaming with hundreds of ghosts who refuse to let their unsuspecting visitors leave, the crumbling homestead soon becomes a prison for the group. Intent on solving the mystery behind the mansion and releasing both themselves and its ghastly residents, Ben and Kent employ a crafty medium (Tiffany Haddish), a haunted house scholar (Danny DeVito), and a long-forgotten sorceress (Jamie Lee Curtis) to aid them in a battle of wills and wits against a demonic force of unimaginable power.

“There’s no such thing as ghosts.” Once again twinning a jaded scientist with an openminded spiritualist, this second adaptation of Disneyland’s popular attraction begins with a much darker edge, attempting to be far creepier with its ghastly haunting and the unnatural, jerky movements of a grotesquely disfigured, phantasmal murderess (which will surely be too unnerving for younger viewers, as indicated by the harsher PG-13 rating). And a child is prominent at the center of the scares, which is intended to amplify the sense of horror. But in the same way that “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” and “Crimson Peak” (both of which involved Guillermo del Toro, who was originally slated to helm this remake) opened with a sequence that felt divorced from the rest of the picture, so too does “Haunted Mansion.” After the initial chills, the bulk of the remaining runtime transitions away from that same intensity – or is unable or unwilling to uphold it.

“Once you come inside, there’s no going back.” Oodles of recognizable imagery from the theme park highlight return (or are reintegrated in more elaborate manners, from the tombstones to the paintings to the stretching elevator walls) as this new plot copies “The Legend of Hell House,” assembling a team of experts (or crackpots) to get to the bottom of a cursed estate. It also embraces a “Ghostbusters” aura as they use technology and seances to collect up ghostly sightings as if Pokemon. But despite borrowing equal parts from sincerer horrors (like “Drag Me to Hell”) and blither adventures (like “The Goonies”), the playful yet eerie blend never quite lands (incapable of emulating the best of such genre fusions, like “Poltergeist”). Jump scares abound, but they don’t fit with the third act’s pivot to mischievous specters and action-based showdowns between the living and dead; screaming, axe-wielding apparitions continually contradict a sense of fascination and exploration in mythological resolutions.

“Aren’t there any rules?” As a result, the moments of humor (as well as purely comic-relief characters) aren’t particularly funny, while the lighter elements of otherworldly possession fail to bite. The players here are either too brave or too absurd. It also doesn’t help that they’re broadly drawn and generic (providing deeper emotional performances that are nevertheless uninspired), with uncreative dialogue (and so many product placement remarks that it becomes laughable; Zillow, Amazon, Costco, and Burger King are ludicrously conspicuous). Although the 2003 version was more of an Eddie Murphy vehicle than anything else, the lack of a strong, sympathetic lead actually makes this update feel as if it needs an overwhelming star-power presence. Plus, the story is convoluted and weakly defined; reasons behind soul-collecting, as well as ghostly capabilities, are largely ignored. For no reason at all, a second haunted house is even tossed into the muddle. Instead of reminding audiences of the fun of the Disneyland staple, this garbled chiller feels more like waiting in a long line just to get onto the ride. “Not today, Satan!”

– The Massie Twins

  • 3/10