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  • Writer's picturePopEntertainment

Haunted Mansion (A Movie Review)

Updated: Jul 31, 2023


Starring LaKeith Stanfield, Tiffany Haddish, Owen Wilson, Danny DeVito, Rosario Dawson, Chase W. Dillon, Dan Levy, Jamie Lee Curtis, Jared Leto, Creek Wilson, Hasan Minhaj, Charity Jordan, Steve Zissis, J.R. Adduci, Lindsay Lamb, Fedor Steel, Terence Rosemore, Mike Benitez, Erika Coleman, Christopher Winchester, Jo Koy, Marilu Henner and Winona Ryder.

Screenplay by Katie Dippold.

Directed by Justin Simien.

Distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures. 123 minutes. Rated PG-13.

If the goal of this film was to top Eddie Murphy’s admirable trainwreck version of The Haunted Mansion from 2003, well then, mission accomplished.

That is not to say this version isn’t without its own shortcomings and issues, but for the first time in a long while with Disney, I went into this movie genuinely excited. This excitement could be possibly attributed to the fact that the Haunted Mansion has been my favorite, and most visited ride at the Disney Parks for almost 20 years now. Or it could be the early childhood nostalgia I had from repeated viewings of the 2003 version on DVD and being the most scared kindergartner you could find in the state of Pennsylvania whenever I would sit down to watch it. Call it whatever you will, but I was excited, nonetheless.

This film is the next big budget Disney film in a long line of commercial flops, and I’m sure the House of Mouse is hoping that this film will break the streak with its loaded cast (LaKeith Stanfield, Owen Wilson, Jared Leto, Tiffany Haddish, Jamie Lee Curtis, Danny DeVito, Rosario Dawson) and screenplay written Katie Dippold (The Heat, Ghostbusters 2016). Unfortunately, for all 999 happy haunts, this movie is sandwiched in between two of the most talked about summer blockbuster films in recent memory, Barbie and Oppenheimer, or what is now known as Barbenheimer.

Walking into the theatre through the nearly 300 people all dressed in pink going to Barbie, we got to our seats and there was a really fun and excited vibe going through the audience, people actually cheered when the movie started (first time I’ve seen that since Avengers Endgame 2019). And overall the movie went over well with the crowd. The jokes for the most part landed when they needed to, and I felt the impact of a good amount of the emotional beats in the film.

Especially LaKeith Stanfield, who delivered a beautifully eloquent and emotionally powerful tearjerker of a monologue describing the things he loved about his deceased wife (much in contrast to Eddie Murphy’s painfully stiff and hard to watch line said to his abruptly killed wife “Sarah, I love you so much.”)

Another standout performance was Chase Dillon, who played Travis, the socially awkward young son of Gabbie (Rosario Dawson). You really felt for the kid throughout the movie, the loss of his father, not fitting in and, obviously, the fact that his house is extremely haunted. Of course, you get the usual on-brand performances from Wilson, DeVito and Haddish, although it’s nice to see that what they bring to the film is relegated to their supporting lead comic relief moments and doesn’t take away from the emotional moments and overall story.

This version of the Haunted Mansion is also filled to the brim with Easter eggs relating to the lore of the actual rides in the Disney Parks. It’s also great to see the hitchhiking ghosts make an appearance as they have been a personal favorite for the longest time. On that note, the spirits in this version have taken a massive leap in quality compared to their ‘03 counterparts as now some of them have genuinely scary moments (but let’s not forget the childhood trauma-inducing crypt scene that still sends shivers down my back just thinking about it.)

This version’s main antagonist is also a reference to Disney Park lore. The Hatbox Ghost (Jared Leto) was an animatronic placed in the attic scene that debuted alongside the ride itself but was removed in 1969 and wouldn’t be seen again until 2015. Leto himself in the role delivered some truly imposing moments of terror. Always as this black figure looming somewhere in the shadows until his big reveal. The scares in this film are also done fairly well as the film uses very modern horror techniques in its first scene with the mansion itself, which is very reminiscent of the 2017 adaptation of Stephen King’s It.

But here are the downsides. The film for the first two-thirds feels decently paced, thorough, and exciting, but jeez, if they didn’t lose themselves, and the plot in the last third. It felt like the movie had taken a complete turn and I felt as if I was watching a different movie.

Secondly, as much as I love Jamie Lee Curtis, I have to say Jennifer Tilly was significantly better as Madame Liotta, and throughout a majority of the film I just kept wishing she were back in the role, especially when Mrs. Curtis attempted whatever unspecified accent she was going for there.

And, as weird as this will sound, and I already know it will, I miss Terrence Stamp, General Zod himself, as the main antagonist. Ridiculous, over the top vibrato and all. He felt like such an imposing figure, and most importantly for me, he wasn’t CGI. Don’t get me wrong the Hatbox Ghost design is great, but I miss just a spooky old British guy popping up behind you and just being an intimidating presence on screen.

Again, is it better than the ‘03 version? Yes. Does it have flaws? Absolutely. But this film is the kind you can bring the family to when there’s nothing else to do and everyone will have a fun time based on the spectacle alone.

Early box office results for this film have it significantly below Barbenheimer and looking like another project where Disney is coming in below where they would like to be financially. Unfortunate, but not unexpected. But hey, if you’re a fan of Disney’s best ride (this is a non-arguable point, it’s been backed by science, just don’t ask which scientists) or you’re looking for an easy watching experience, this wouldn’t be a bad option whatsoever.

George Seth Wagner

Copyright ©2023 All rights reserved. Posted: July 28, 2023.


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