Haunted Mansion Review
Haunted Mansion (2023) Film Review, a movie directed by Justin Simien, written by Katie Dippold and starring LaKeith Stanfield, Rosario Dawson, Owen Wilson, Tiffany Haddish, Danny DeVito, Jamie Lee Curtis, Chase Dillon, Jared Leto, J.R. Adduci, Creek Wilson, Ben Bladon, Lindsay Lamb, Charity Jordan, Fedor Steer, Terence Rosemore, Mike Benitez, Erika Coleman and Christopher Winchester.
Director Justin Simien brings the new family-friendly haunted house movie, Haunted Mansion, to life with lots of heart but the plot is light on laughs and genuine thrills. The movie has an abundance of sappy sentimentality and jokes which fall flatter than was expected but there’s still some overall fun to be had thanks to the inspired casting of the new picture which showcases nice turns from LaKeith Stanfield and Rosario Dawson and, to a lesser extent, funnymen Owen Wilson and Danny DeVito. Surprisingly, Tiffany Haddish and Jamie Lee Curtis are just adequate here but their roles were not as fleshed out as they could have been. While the pacing of the new picture is off and there is an abundance of talky scenes throughout, it may appeal to less discriminating movie-goers.
Early on, we meet Ben Matthias (Stanfield), a tour guide who is informed by Father Kent (Wilson) that a woman named Gabbie (Dawson) is offering cash money for help trying to learn more about the ghosts that occupy the mansion Gabbie has moved into with her young son, Travis (Chase Dillon). Ben isn’t the most friendly guy lately because of the loss of the love of his life, Alyssa (the charming Charity Jordan). He needs the money, though, and has expertise in the subject in which Gabbie needs his help. This film opens with Gabbie recognizing that her home is, indeed, haunted as she tries to give Travis a better life following the passing of his dad. Soon, many people will come into the mansion trying to get to the bottom of what is going on there and why.
Jamie Lee Curtis’s role as Madame Leota is mostly reduced to Leota making some predictions through the glass ball in which she appears with wild hair. Her role isn’t disappointing. It’s just a come down from her recent Oscar-winning work in Everything Everywhere All at Once. In a funny bit, DeVito pops up as Bruce Davis, a man who declares he is too old to die as he is pushed out of the mansion in a chair that takes him onto the road and eventually lands him in the hospital. But, Bruce isn’t going to stay there too long judging from what the ghosts are doing to the patient next to him (they raise the other patient’s bed up and down rather quickly).
Haddish isn’t at the top of her game in her work in this film as Harriet who hilariously dozes off as she tries to figure out what’s going on with the ghosts in the haunted mansion of the film’s title. Harriet sits at a table with her fellow characters trying to help Gabbie and company out but some of these scenes feel totally improvised. The dialogue doesn’t always flow well and the scenes seem edited haphazardly.
Stanfield is a fine, charismatic actor whose character creates some real chemistry with Dawson’s Gabbie throughout the film. Ben even bonds with Travis as well as the three may just have what it takes to become a family. Just maybe. Jared Leto also shows up as a key ghostly character named Alistair Crump. Crump is well-conceived and Leto has a field day with his role in the film bringing some much needed scary energy to the movie.
Owen Wilson is having fun as well here even if it feels like he’s reading some of his lines from cue cards. Wilson always has a good time in the comedies he stars in but the audience could feel his character here is a little too underwritten to truly add much to the movie. He isn’t really a devout priest but he tries hard and Wilson does his thing making the character full of the actor’s distinct charisma.
There are some scenes towards the end which feel like a Disney theme park ride like the one this film is based on. As characters explore paths and passageways, the house traps the characters in puzzle-like scenarios that are entertaining to watch. When a ghost takes the form of Travis’s dad, Ben must save the day and prove that he can be the stand-in for Travis’s no-longer-alive father.
Haunted Mansion tries too hard. It wants to please adults and children equally but will end up appealing more to adults with its more mature than expected humor. Some scenes are probably too scary for kids while others will end up boring young viewers altogether.
In the end, Dawson and Stanfield’s likable characters are enough to make Haunted Mansion appealing for the every day movie-goer but even Eddie Murphy’s less-than-stellar approach in 2003’s The Haunted Mansion was a bit more inspired. Stay put as the credits of the new film roll for a bit of a musical montage that will have some genuine appeal to those who make it to the end of the movie. Kids might not make it to that point due to the many sluggish passages early in the picture.
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