Haunted Mansion Review

Friday 11 August 2023

Plot: A single mom named Gabbie hires a tour guide, a psychic, a priest and a historian to help exorcise her newly bought mansion after discovering it is inhabited by ghosts.
 Film: Haunted Mansion

Director: Justin Simien

Writer: Katie Dippold

Starring: LaKeith Stanfield, Rosario Dawson, Owen Wilson, Tiffany Haddish, Danny DeVito

Based on the Disney theme park ride of the same name. Haunted Mansion bring together single mom Gabbie (Rosario Dawson) and her son Travis (Chase Dillon) who have moved cross country to New Orleans, tour guide and former ghost hunter Ben (LaKeith Stanfield), a psychic named Harriet (Tiffany Haddish), priest Father Kent (Owen Wilson) and a history professor named Bruce (Danny DeVito) who all band together to rid the mansion of his ghostly inhabitants. 

If like me, you have ridden the Haunted Mansion ride in any one of the Disney Parks, you are undoubtedly going to enjoy this film. This film is not a remake of 2003 Eddie Murphy film, but a much more faithful adaptation of the ride itself and the story that goes with it. There are so many references to the ride crammed into this film from hitchhiking ghosts to the haunted room that’s actually stretching. I truly feel sorry for the person I was watching this film with as every time something was referenced, I felt the need to tell them. If you want a taste of the theme park nerd experience I’d recommend watching a ride POV like this one before watching the film. 

LaKeith Stanfield’s performance was the absolute standout for me. I know now that he had a role in Get Out and played a small part in Knives Out too, but at the time I didn’t recognise him which shocked me because Ben is a character filled with a lot of emotion. He’s a grieving widower and reluctant hero but so effortlessly bonds with Travis and takes on the role of guardian so naturally. LaKeith is an actor I’ll be watching out for in future. Tiffany Haddish and Owen Wilson were constantly battling it out for the scene stealer award, but I couldn’t tell you who won, and Danny DeVito was on top comedic form as always. The only role I wasn’t overly excited about was Rosario Dawson, I don’t think they gave Gabbie the time to shine like they could have but there were so many great cameos that it isn’t surprising that this large ensemble cast had a few shortcomings. 

I can’t talk about the cast without mentioning what was the biggest surprise of the film, not sure how I missed that Jared Leto was playing the Hatbox Ghost, who is a Disney Parks legend and one of the most prominent characters when it comes to park merchandise. In the film he is the main antagonist and while Jared Leto is completely unrecognisable, given for most of the film the character is entirely CGI, I’ll give him props for the voice acting and he looks the part in a portrait of the character before he died. It’s not often in this day and age that you can sit down to watch a film and be genuinely shocked when reading the cast in the opening credits, I’m not sure if it was down to the SAG-AFTRA strike or intentional redaction, but it was an interesting surprise. 

My major gripe with the film was down to the amount of product placement in this film and how awkwardly some of it was done. I know the film industry is struggling but one instance in particular when Ben is recounting how his wife died, he says that before her accident she was getting ice cream, from Baskin Robins, and it didn’t sound like a particularly natural detail to include in the very emotional retelling of the worst day of his life, and to prove I’m not nit-picking, another instance was when Harriet is performing a séance, she leaves out a pen and paper “That [she] bought from CVS.” for any ghosts who may be present to write a message on. It sounded out of place in the moment and on top of the, Yankee Candle, Burger King, Amazon, Monopoly, Costco, Zillow, U-Haul, iPhone and possibly a few other references that I didn’t catch, it definitely seemed like overkill, and I fear that the lack of subtlety means I’m now going to have to start tallying brand placement in every other film I see this year. 

Haunted Mansion isn't on the level of Pirates of the Caribbean for theme park ride adaptations, I definitely think this film is going to be a bigger hit with those who have experienced the ride, whereas the former is universally beloved, but as someone who falls into that category; I had a lot of fun with this one and undoubtedly will again in the future. 

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