Directed by: Justin Simien
Written by: Katie Dippold
Starring: LaKeith Stanfield, Tiffany Haddish, Owen Wilson, Danny DeVito, Rosario Dawson, Jamie Lee Curtis, Jared Leto
Released: August 31, 2023
Grade: B-

Haunted Mansion

In doing pre-reading for the release of Haunted Mansion, I realised a movie about the Disneyland ride, starring Eddie Murphy, had already been made back in 2003.  I’d completely forgotten about it!  I can’t find my original notes but, considering it made by worst 10 list that year, suffice to say I wasn’t a fan.  It might also explain why I’ve supressed all memory of the experience.

The upside is that this 2023 reboot can only be an improvement.  Sticking with the Disney motto of leaning into existing intellectual property (as opposed to new ideas), this is a safe, formulaic comedy pitched at the family crowd.  The title may allude to something scary but the PG rating here in Australia suggests its anything but.  The lighter tone creates a vibe reminiscent to Hocus Pocus, The Addams Family and Hotel Transylvania.

The narrative is easy to follow.  A widowed mother (Dawson) and her curious son move into a rundown mansion with hopes of transforming it into a bed and breakfast.  It takes only one evening to realise it’s haunted by ghosts.  The obvious response is to flee but that option is removed via a convenient plot device – once you’ve met the ghosts, they’ll follow you no matter where you run.

With no other viable alternatives, the mum pulls together a diverse team including a spectral photographer (Stanfield), an exorcising priest (Wilson), and a questionable psychic (Haddish), to help rid the house of paranormal beings.  As part of their work, they learn more about the history of the property which helps understand why strange things are afoot.  It’s simple with few surprises.

The cast draw on their varied comedic approaches to help lift the material.  Oscar nominee LaKeith Stanfield (Judas and the Black Messiah) plays the “straight man” while Tiffany Haddish (Girls Trip) goes for the opposite end of the spectrum in creating an over-the-top character who is seldom serious.  Jamie Lee Curtis and Jared Leto provide cameos but they’re largely unforgettable.

There’s enough here to satisfy younger audiences.  For everyone else, Haunted Mansion has a few decent gags but struggles to entertain for the full two hours.