Directed by: Justin Simien
Premise: Based on the Disney theme park attraction. A mother and her son (Rosario Dawson and Chase Dillon) move into an abandoned mansion and discover it is inhabited by ghosts. A team of paranormal investigators attempt to locate the source of the haunt.
What Works: Haunted Mansion is Disney’s third attempt at producing a feature film out of their theme park attraction, the first being the execrable 2003 movie starring Eddie Murphy and the second the 2021 version featuring the Muppets. 2023’s Haunted Mansion is the best of the three versions and the extent to which it succeeds is largely due to its cast. The film has a roster of likable character and everyone is given something meaningful to do. 2023’s Haunted Mansion is led by Rosario Dawson and Chase Dillon as a mother and son and the two of them are likable together with the parent and child looking out for one another. However, the real lead of Haunted Mansion is LaKeith Stanfield, a widower who has looked for signs of an afterlife and has lost faith. Stanfield brings both humor and gravitas to the movie. His character has something meaningful at stake and Stanfield’s performance is the highlight of the film.
What Doesn’t: If Haunted Masion has focused on the core relationship between LaKeith Stanfield’s character and Rosario Dawson and Chase Dillon’s mother and son roles, the film could have been a compelling haunted house picture. Instead, the filmmakers pack the movie with an overabundance of side characters. There are too many people, living and dead, crowding the movie and their presence dilutes the subplots of the most interesting characters. The pitch these actors take is all over the place from Stanfield’s straightforward performance to Owen Wilson and Tiffany Haddish playing versions of their typical screen personas and Jamie Lee Curtis going very broad as the ghost of a medium. A few elements of the plot don’t make sense. The backstory of the evil lead ghost is convoluted. We discover that the villain needs one last soul but the evil spirit’s motives are unclear and uninteresting. For a movie based on the theme park attraction, Haunted Mansion lacks much in the way of thrills or fun. This is intended to be a family-friendly movie but it is so restrained and watered down that Haunted Mansion elicits hardly any reaction at all. This is indicative of a larger trend in family-friendly movies which underestimate what level of intensity young people can take and the result is a bland film that isn’t very exciting and doesn’t really satisfy anyone. The film also suffers from murky filmmaking. A movie like this is expected to have a dark palette but many scenes are so underlit that the action is virtually impossible to follow.
Disc extras: Featurettes, deleted scenes, bloopers.
Bottom Line: Haunted Mansion is another mediocre attempt by Disney to turn this theme park attraction into a movie. A few elements are interesting but they are overpowered by an uneven tone and an unwillingness to really scare the audience.
Episode: #971 (October 29, 2023)