Review: Haunted Mansion

Score: C-

Director: Justin Simien

Cast: LaKeith Stanfield, Rosario Dawson, Owen Wilson, Tiffany Haddish

Running Time: 123 Minutes

Rated: PG-13

When a horror comedy is neither scary nor funny, there's very little left to enjoy. Despite a talented cast, Haunted Mansion is one of the biggest duds of the year.

LaKeith Stanfield is woefully miscast as Ben, a former scientist whose belief in the paranormal ended when his wife passed away. Still, he's called on by a priest (Owen Wilson) to help clear out the ghosts who have taken up residence in the home of Gabbie (Rosario Dawson) and her son Travis (Chase W. Dillon). He's skeptical of course, but soon enough he's followed by spirits and determined to get rid of them. With so many unwelcome guests, he enlists the help of a psychic (Tiffany Haddish), a professor (Danny DeVito) and even a medium (Jamie Lee Curtis). They all soon realize there's a larger threat: the evil specter of the Hatbox Ghost (Jared Leto).

Even for a movie based on a theme park ride, there was plenty of potential here. Yet every decision made seems to have been the cheapest, easiest and least creative. The film tries to pass off its New Orleans bonafides early on, but almost everything was filmed in the same Atlanta warehouses Disney makes the MCU. The production designer could have had some clever fun with the house's living paintings, crooked hallways and trap doors. But almost all the special effects are done with unimaginative green screen. Even the cinematography is lifeless. And this before we get into the endless product placement, which includes references to CVS and Baskin-Robbins, plus an entire scene where some of the cast eats Burger King, only to point out they don't even serve the one food item with special meaning for Ben.

There's no telling how much studio interference is to blame for the film's failure, though the last act, in particular, feels rushed and reshot. Cameos from Winona Ryder and Dan Levy (the latter giving an especially bad performance) are pointless. And writer Katie Dippold pivots hard into sentimentality towards the end. But that doesn't make up for the film's lack of humor and thrills, and the tears it's going for feel unearned. It also stretches out what should be a fun summer flick to near two hours. But hey, at least the costumes are great.

With weak characters and little excitement, Haunted Mansion is too rickety to enjoy, especially in a summer with so many proper thrill rides.


About Kip Mooney

Kip Mooney
Like many film critics born during and after the 1980s, my hero is Roger Ebert. The man was already the best critic in the nation when he won the Pulitzer in 1975, but his indomitable spirit during and after his recent battle with cancer keeps me coming back to read not only his reviews but his insightful commentary on the everyday. But enough about a guy you know a lot about. I knew I was going to be a film critic—some would say a snob—in middle school, when I had to voraciously defend my position that The Royal Tenenbaums was only a million times better than Adam Sandler’s remake of Mr. Deeds. From then on, I would seek out Wes Anderson’s films and avoid Sandler’s like the plague. Still, I like to think of myself as a populist, and I’ll be just as likely to see the next superhero movie as the next Sundance sensation. The thing I most deplore in a movie is laziness. I’d much rather see movies with big ambitions try and fail than movies with no ambitions succeed at simply existing. I’m also a big advocate of fun-bad movies like The Room and most of Nicolas Cage’s work. In the past, I’ve written for The Dallas Morning News and the North Texas Daily, which I edited for a semester. I also contributed to Dallas-based Pegasus News, which in the circle of life, is now part of The Dallas Morning News, where I got my big break in 2007. Eventually, I’d love to write and talk about film full-time, but until that’s a viable career option, I work as an auditor for Wells Fargo. I hope to one day meet my hero, go to the Toronto International Film Festival, and compete on Jeopardy. Until then, I’m excited to share my love of film with you.