It was a dark and stormy night… No, seriously. I braved a heavy deluge with tree-rocking winds for a night viewing. Haunted Mansion, not to be confused with The Haunted Mansion made some two (my god I’m old) decades ago, is a Disney fantasy-horror-comedy based on the ride… kinda like The Haunted Mansion with Eddie Murphy. A reverse Suicide Squad situation here where the newer has removed the denoting article in the title. But this review is not about comparing the two Disney ride-inspired films, or maybe it is I do these reviews free-styled.
Disney’s 2023 Haunted Mansion stars LaKeith Stanfield from Sorry to Bother You as our main character Ben Matthias, a down-on-his-luck detective Astrophysicist who went from CERN and NASA to ghost tours in New Orleans. Joining is the beautiful Rosario (ageing like wine) Dawson of you name it… I’m going to go with Sin City, playing a single mother who bought the haunted mansion in question to be closer to her roots and start a new one with her awkward bolo tie-wearing son Travis. The rest of the main cast is filled out by Owen Wilson’s chill Father Kent, Danny (we love you) DeVito’s professor Bruce Davis, a teacher obsessed with the haunted house, and Tiffany (Tuca) Haddish the weak-powered medium. The supporting cast being Jamie Lee Curtis, immortalized in the horror community for her legendary role as Alana in Terror Train, playing head in a ball; and last you love to hate him and hate to see him, the mighty Morbin Jared Leto as the main antagonist, he’s also the villain in this movie too.
The movie starts with Ben, LaKeith, at a bar on New Year’s Eve looking for something more than what’s in his glass, and, unfortunately, he found her. He makes the acquaintance with this topsy-turvy dame who turns this young detective Astrophysicist’s life upside down the only way he can see straight is through the tail-end of a bottle. We meet him years later as he wakes in a daze at a bar having taken up his old flames haunted history tour… except like every good
detective Astrophysicist he’s a sceptic, albeit with a part missin’. Ben is my favourite character. He is believable, sceptical without being obtuse in the face of preternatural events, funny and charismatic. Ben is the main character don-right.
The second opening, if we may call it that, is the housewarming of Dawson’s Gabbie and her son Travis to the old manor. Plenty of atmospheres, Dutch angles, stretching hallways a la Poltergeist, and a genuinely creepy-looking ghoul in the young boy’s room whose head vibrates at nauseating speeds. Travis runs to his mother and explains; like all movies, the parent is quick to dismiss, that is until the suit of armour appears behind her son and like rational people they flee. Roll credi- what there’s more?
The assembly. Destiny knocks on bens door in the form of Father Kent sent by Gabbie to recruit him to take pictures with his special camera that he designed to search for the unseen. He declines until he hears about the pay and is ready to do this photo shoot. Ben shows up with a dead battery, takes the payment upright and pretends to take pictures; he gets mesmerized by a painting of a sailor- as one does- and attributes the haunting to common phenomenon. But wait I thought Gabbie and son left? They did. It’s Grudges rules bitches! Once you step foot inside the house you’re part of it and will be haunted until you return. They recruit a medium, Haddish, without telling her and when she starts racking up the bill they let her go knowing that in a matter of hours, she be back. She comes back and gives Father Kent a tongue-lashing. Last is the Professor who is more than willing to go to the house but he has a bad ticker and Ben would rather not curse him. Father Kent and Ben steal all of Professor Davis’s notes on the history of the house. Unfortunately, Davis wants to see the haunting and follows them, only to be tossed out via chair and sent to a hospital where Ben and Gabbie for his (and the other patients’) safety spirit him away back to the mansion.
The plot. It is revealed that the evil spirit of Jared Leto has brought forth through manipulation and murder nine-hundred and ninety-nine souls to the manor and needs one more, a willing participant, to achieve absolute power. Not gonna lie, I know Leto is a method actor, but I want to know how he prepared for the role of a nineteenth-century murderous ghost. Anyway, in order to stop his plan they need an item that the deceased Crum, Leto, had during his lifetime to send him to hell. This takes a detour to a historical bead and breakfast lead by none other than Winona Ryder who has nothing original of Crum, even the can in the foyer is hers… ’for very personal use,’ and I’m left wondering for internal or external uses. Ben, Kent and Travis make a deal with the Sailor ghost to find something of Crums and this results in Travis finding not only a personal garment but the cemetery of Crums victims.
The climax. In his weekend state Crum possesses Professor Davis who ties up Gabbie and the Medium Harriet. Father Kent comes clean that he’s not a real priest. Crum manipulates Travis with the loss of his father to try to take his life (did not expect encouraged childhood suicide via ghost pretending to be a dead parent). Ben Stalls for time and Jamie Lee Curtis saves the day. The movie ends on a positive, of letting go of your grief and embracing the life you do have with those you love and who love you. Also, I know they were alluding to Ben and Gabbie possibly being a thing, but the only man she kisses in the movie is DeVito’s Professor Davis, then again who could resist his animalistic magnetism?
Disney’s Haunted Mansion is not perfect but it is good, a clean seven out of ten. I had fun. The writing is engaging and funny, and the camera work (excluding one scene) was overall good. I know I rage against CGI but here in this creepy slightly campy horror comedy, the effects were perfectly suited. The ghosts weren’t cutesy or silly, they seemed like an actual threat, and the acting is all-around good, special shout out to Chase Dillon the kid who played Travis for not being the stereotypical annoying kid character and actually being able to emote. This movie, as far as I know at the time of my writing this, is doing terrible at the box office and that is of no fault of its own. It was released in the wake of Barbenheimer, I fault nobody for overlooking this when those two giants are still drawing people in droves, but I don’t review movies like those. I review the weird, the underappreciated, the unknown, the crap, the creepy and the kooky. I review the unpopular in hopes that I may give my thoughts on something, good or bad, that should be recognized for the work and effort that went into them. I hope that this doesn’t become one of those obscure things that I typically watch because it deserves better, or at least better than that forgettable pile from 2003