Tuesday, May 21, 2024

“HAUNTED MANSION”

THE STORY – Inspired by the classic theme park attraction, “Haunted Mansion” is about a woman and her son who enlist a motley crew of so-called spiritual experts to help rid their home of supernatural squatters.

THE CAST – LaKeith Stanfield, Tiffany Haddish, Owen Wilson, Danny DeVito, Rosario Dawson, Chase W. Dillon, Daniel Levy, Jamie Lee Curtis & Jared Leto

THE TEAM – Justin Simien (Director) & Katie Dippold (Writer)

THE RUNNING TIME – 122 Minutes


In the endless search for spinning their preexisting properties into movies, the folks at Disney have been using various attractions at their theme parks as inspiration for a few decades now. Back in 2003, they turned to perhaps the most film-like of all rides to create the Eddie Murphy vehicle “The Haunted Mansion.” Results were lackluster, to say the least. Reviews were unkind, its legacy is nonexistent, and its respectable box office was nothing compared to the treasure chest’s worth of profits made by another theme park-inspired film released that same year: “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.” It’s unsurprising that Disney would reboot this spooky property after two decades of an avalanche of IP-based movies. Justin Simien’s “Haunted Mansion” (presumably a “the” proved too scary to executives) is a new story inspired by the classic ride. With the half-century-old attraction being so apparently cinematic on its own, it’s almost impressive that Disney can’t seem to get a good movie out of it.

The film follows Ben (LaKeith Stanfield), a New Orleans tour guide with a background in paranormal-tinged science experiments. Although he doesn’t believe in ghosts, he answers the call to help rid a supposedly haunted mansion of its spirit infestation. A wacky crew is assembled alongside him, and it becomes clear to all that the home is, in fact, full of ghosts – and not all of them of the friendly variety.

For being based on such a straightforward ride, “Haunted Mansion” sports a busy plot, constantly adding steps and complications to the main character’s journey. There’s a lot on its plate, which only makes the film’s bloated runtime feel even longer. It would be strange to call a movie like this convoluted. Still, it bizarrely has trouble following its own set of rules while paradoxically adding more and more to the ones that its characters must follow to accomplish their goals. For instance, of the 999 happy haunts that call the mansion home, there’s no sense as to which ones are benevolent and which are on the side of the bad guy. Frequently, their allegiances seem to switch based on the requirements of a scene.

If nothing else, one would hope certain elements would be delightfully creepy, no matter the overall quality. Even the exhausting 2003 original film boasted impressive designs, but aspects that are begging to be fun and spooky in the newer film don’t work. For one, the score by Kris Bowers is unmemorable, with its most noteworthy moments based on variations on the attraction’s musical themes. And the production design of the titular abode lacks detail and specificity. This problem isn’t helped by the fact that the film often has its characters running down endless arrangements of anonymous hallways with no sense of individuality or spatial geography to them. It may seem nonsensical to ask for a trackable layout of a magical house. Still, without a sense of logic or reality, the film only draws attention to the fact that its characters are galloping through blue screens and computer algorithms rather than a real mansion.

The humans that find themselves terrorized by the spectral residents of the legendary haunted house are played by a group of established Hollywood stars. Of them, Owen Wilson is by far the standout as Kent, an exuberant priest who recruits our hero. Wilson’s trademark “Aw, shucks,” persona is perfect for the optimistic clergyman; he fires off one-liners with a hilariously earnest quality, easily earning him the most laughs of anyone. Tiffany Haddish is funny as an eccentric medium with a penchant for dropping store brand names at inappropriate moments, occasionally to the point of annoyance for both the characters and the audience. And Jamie Lee Curtis is a hoot in every brief moment she’s onscreen. She plays her mysterious psychic character with a kooky accent, adorned in a fabulous costume, and she’s a campy delight. Unfortunately, LaKeith Stanfield seems lost as the central character, Ben, a skeptical scientist-turned-historian. He’s a man in mourning, but Stanfield just appears distant and low energy rather than grief-stricken. That is until he delivers a sudden emotional monologue that feels totally unearned based on how he has played his character up to that point. It’s a distracting moment.

Obviously, the film is littered with references and Easter eggs to the ride that Disney Parks fans will have a good time pointing out in recognition. Leaning on these callbacks is actually welcome in a film that’s otherwise unengaging and yet another Disney story about a character working through their grief and trauma – the only central metaphor that the company is interested in nowadays. From its lack of fun, spooky energy, and disappointing designs – which are only emphasized by claustrophobic cinematography and unclear editing – “Haunted Mansion” is depressingly uninteresting. Although this is the second time this has been the case for a movie with that title, there’s undoubtedly a good film to be made from the famous ride. It just might take another 20 years before we see it.

THE RECAP

THE GOOD - Fans of the Disney Park ride will have a blast pointing out the many references and Easter eggs from the classic attraction.

THE BAD - None of the film, not even the sets or music, has the kind of delightfully spooky energy that one would expect from even a mediocre "Haunted Mansion" movie. The scattered plot and uneven performances only add to the disappointment.

THE OSCARS - None

THE FINAL SCORE - 4/10

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Cody Dericks
Cody Dericks
Actor, awards & musical theatre buff. Co-host of the horror film podcast Halloweeners.

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<b>THE GOOD - </b>Fans of the Disney Park ride will have a blast pointing out the many references and Easter eggs from the classic attraction.<br><br> <b>THE BAD - </b>None of the film, not even the sets or music, has the kind of delightfully spooky energy that one would expect from even a mediocre "Haunted Mansion" movie. The scattered plot and uneven performances only add to the disappointment.<br><br> <b>THE OSCARS - </b>None <br><br> <b>THE FINAL SCORE - </b>4/10<br><br>"HAUNTED MANSION"