Based on the Disneyland attraction of the same name and directed by Justin Simien (Dear White People, Bad Hair), Haunted Mansion is the second attempt to adapt the property to film but, once again, falls flat with its lackluster execution. As someone who wasn’t a fan of the 2003 version starring Eddie Murphy, I went in with low expectations, and unfortunately, those expectations were justified. I was hoping this new film would be better than its predecessor, but it was not.
The film follows Ben (LaKeith Stanfield), a once-passionate astrophysicist turned tour guide, dealing with the tragic loss of his wife. When Gabbie (Rosario Dawson), a single mother, seeks his help to investigate her haunted house, they assemble a team, including a psychic (Tiffany Haddish), a priest (Owen Wilson), and a historian (Danny DeVito), to confront the malevolent spirits haunting her abode.
Unfortunately, the movie fails to deliver any genuine scares and instead resorts to clichéd and cartoonish ghost designs that belong more in a Halloween store than a horror film. The scares are so tame and predictable that they’re about as frightening as a child wearing a white sheet and shouting “boo!”. The plot follows a typical ghost story with little to offer in terms of originality, and the lessons and backstories presented are painfully standard.
The film’s attempt to appeal to both children and adults falls flat, as the scares are too tame for adults and the humor is too childish for children. The comedic dialogue tries too hard to make up for the lack of scares, resulting in a rather childish and juvenile tone throughout. While the characters are somewhat likable, they don’t have enough depth to elevate the movie beyond its mediocrity.
I appreciate the stronger attempt at faithfully recreating the atmosphere and features of the original Disneyland attraction in this film compared to Disney’s previous endeavor. However, the movie’s special effects leave much to be desired, with some of the ghosts looking more like low-budget animatronics than believable supernatural entities. The climax of the film also suffers from obvious CGI ghosts and a heavy-handed approach to character development, resulting in moments that feel forced and awkward.
However, the one bright spot in this film is LaKeith Stanfield. He brings a level of talent and commitment that seems to exceed the overall quality of the movie itself, creating an odd dissonance between his acting and the film’s lackluster execution. His emotional range and nuanced expressions make it evident that he’s fully invested in the role. Yet, it becomes apparent quite quickly that he’s almost too good for the material he’s working with.
In the end, Haunted Mansion fell short of my expectations, which were already pretty low to begin with. I was hoping for a movie that was at least better than its predecessor, but was ultimately disappointed. While there were some enjoyable aspects and some effort was made to capture the essence of the popular ride, it unfortunately lacked the true scare factor I was hoping for in a haunted house movie. Maybe the third time will be the charm for Disney next time.