Haunted Mansion movie review (2023)
Disney’s Haunted Mansion has become a beloved part of the company’s spooky canon, with its latest film adaptation directed by Justin Simien, known for his work in “Dear White People” and “Bad Hair.” Following in the footsteps of the 2003 Eddie Murphy chapter and the 2021 Muppets edition, this version returns to a Black-led live-action iteration of the classic story.
The plot centers around single mother Gabbie (Rosario Dawson) and her nine-year-old son Travis (Chase Dillon) moving into their dream antique house. However, they soon discover that the home is inhabited by spirited tenants. To tackle the supernatural tormentors, they enlist the help of a diverse team, including grieving astrophysicist Ben (LaKeith Stanfield), priest Father Kent (Owen Wilson), medium Harriet (Tiffany Haddish), and haunted house expert Professor Bruce Davis (Danny DeVito).
Despite a star-studded cast, the film struggles with execution. The script, penned by writer Katie Dippold (“The Heat” “Parks and Recreation”), falls short on delivering punchlines, making the jokes feel forced and flat. While Wilson and Haddish manage to carry the weight of the humor, the rest of the cast’s comedic efforts often miss the mark. The inclusion of some light innuendos seems an attempt to appeal to more mature audiences without fully landing.
Simien’s film does succeed in showcasing the fun-loving origins of the Haunted Mansion, with its surrealist transformations of the house. Nostalgia for the classic Gothicism is present through endless halls, extended ceilings, gargoyles, hidden rooms, and ghostly portraits. The film also features playful chases and spooky sequences, but they are too fleeting, and the movie struggles to maintain a consistent pace until the climactic third act.
The cast, filled with lively and talented actors, unfortunately, feels underused or misdirected by the script. LaKeith Stanfield’s portrayal of Ben, mourning the loss of his wife, lacks the emotional depth that he has demonstrated in other roles. The forced romantic tension between Stanfield and Dawson’s characters also falls flat. Seasoned comedic actors like Wilson, DeVito, and Haddish do their best, but too few of their comedic efforts hit the mark.
Amidst its shortcomings, “Haunted Mansion” still retains the familiar elements of a Gothic tale, with a thoughtful exploration of grief running throughout the story. The film highlights how grief can make us vulnerable while also providing the opportunity to connect with others and appreciate the lives we lead. Additionally, the nostalgic spookiness appeals to family audiences.
In conclusion, “Haunted Mansion” has the building blocks for a Halloween classic but falls short due to its lackluster comedic efforts and a missed opportunity to fully utilize its talented ensemble cast. The movie offers moments of fun and nostalgia but ultimately fails to cement itself as a standout addition to Disney’s spooky canon.
“Haunted Mansion” is currently playing in theaters.
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