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Haunted Mansion (2023)

Haunted Mansion (2023)

A two-hour-long advertisement masquerading as a kid-friendly horror comedy

5.0

Movie

United States of America
English
Comedy, Family, Fantasy, Horror
2023
JUSTIN SIMIEN
Alisa Harris, Amy Parrish, Andrew Morgado
123 min

TLDR

Actually quite a fun watch, if you make a game of counting all the brands this brazenly name-drops.

What it's about

A grieving astrophysicist (LaKeith Stanfield) is brought together with a priest (Owen Wilson), a professor (Danny DeVito), and a medium (Tiffany Haddish) to help a single mother (Rosario Dawson) and her young son (Chase Dillon) rid their new home of the specters that haunt it.

The take

A movie based on a theme park ride is always going to be a marketing exercise, but what’s remarkable about Haunted Mansion is how uninterested it is in even pretending to be anything more. Amazon, Yankee Candle, CVS, Baskin Robbins, Burger King: you could fill a mall with the list of brands shamelessly name-dropped in the movie. Gallingly, the cast are even forced to do double duty as brand ambassadors during some of the movie’s most determined efforts at poignancy — oof.

Not even an ensemble featuring the comedic-dramatic chops of LaKeith Stanfield, Rosario Dawson, Tiffany Haddish, Danny DeVito, Owen Wilson, and Chase Dillon (the best of the bunch) can make such naked cash-grabs feel organic. What’s more, though, Haunted Mansion depressingly asks so little of its cast that there aren’t really any opportunities for them to counterbalance these embarrassing moments with anything approaching compelling. Adding to its struggles are the mansion’s sludgy color palette (which renders every scene unremarkable, no matter how moving or spooky it’s supposed to be) and the fact that it somehow feels rushed even at an overlong two hours. Though you can appreciate director Justin Simien’s efforts at elevating the material into something coherent, Haunted Mansion feels as lifeless as the ghosts that fill it.

What stands out

As is apparently the norm for kids’ movies these days, grief is an overriding theme here, but Haunted Mansion does make the interesting suggestion that there’s an unexpected link between grief and joy. Though that idea is never successfully fleshed out — the movie gets lost in so, so many narrative weeds — it fits well with Haunted Mansion’s New Orleans setting (in the introductory scenes, for example, we glimpse life being celebrated through the city’s tradition of jazz funeral processions). Once the action moves to the mansion, however, the movie loses its sense of place entirely — and, with it, the best thing going for it.

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