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Haunted Mansion

From the original ride to now-three of film adaptations, Disney's Haunted Mansion is properly cemented into the company’s spooky canon. This installment is in line behind 2003’s nostalgic Eddie Murphy chapter and 2021’s Muppets edition. Justin Simien (“Dear White People,” “Bad Hair") directs this return to a Black-led live-action iteration of the story. 

The simple plot lends to simple execution across the board. Single mother Gabbie (Rosario Dawson) has moved into the antique house of her dreams with her nine-year-old son Travis (Chase Dillon). But not long after stepping into the home, they become blatantly aware of the spirited tenants occupying the creepy abode. Enlisting the help of grieving astrophysicist Ben (LaKeith Stanfield), priest Father Kent (Owen Wilson), medium Harriet (Tiffany Haddish), and haunted house expert Professor Bruce Davis (Danny DeVito), the gang hopes to put their heads together to rid the house of its supernatural tormentors.

“Haunted Mansion” is star-studded but shoddy at best. Despite the talent of writer Katie Dippold (“The Heat” “Parks and Recreation”), the script’s punchlines are forced and flat. Everyone is doled their share of one-liners, but Wilson and Haddish carry most of the weight. While Wilson often runs dry, Haddish delivers in her classic tone and cadence, executing flimsy jokes to her best ability. The script does toe the line of Disney’s boundaries, tossing in some light innuendos in a somewhat concerted effort to draw in more mature audiences.

Simien's film does display its fun-loving origins in how the house can transform into a surrealist landscape. Halls that never end, ceilings that extend into impossibility, gargoyles, hidden rooms, and the ever-so-classic ghost-inhabited portraits recall nostalgia for the film’s classic Gothicism. “Haunted Mansion” boasts a handful of playful chases and spooky sequences, but they’re fleeting and soon bring us back to the film’s stuttering pace. It's hard to find any true tension in "Haunted Mansion" until the climactic faceoff in the third act. 

Perhaps the greatest letdown of Simien's movie is how little the cast delivers. The ensemble is brimming with lively, prolific candidates, yet the script hardly seems to keep this in mind. Their talents are either underused or misdirected. Stanfield’s Ben mourns the loss of his wife, his grief becoming a cornerstone of the story. Yet while we’ve seen Stanfield display emotional depth in other roles, every tearful moment feels like a soap opera, not on account of sentiment, but performance. There’s a sense of watered-down contrivance across the board. The forced, postured will-they won’t-they romance between Stanfield and Dawson showcases this also. And with seasoned comedic actors in Wilson, DeVito, and Haddish, too few of their comedy efforts actually hit. 

“Haunted Mansion” is constructed with the familiar bricks of a Gothic tale, down to the theme of grief that runs throughout. There’s a thoughtful examination of how grief makes us vulnerable while also being able to harness the power of that love to connect with one another and appreciate the lives we lead. There’s also value for family audiences in the nostalgic spookiness that rides along the surface. But with a repeated sourness in the film’s comedic efforts and a tragically misused ensemble, “Haunted Mansion” misses the chance to become a Halloween classic. 

In theaters now.

Peyton Robinson

Peyton Robinson is a freelance film writer based in Chicago, IL. 

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Film Credits

Haunted Mansion movie poster

Haunted Mansion (2023)

Rated PG-13 for some thematic elements and scary action.

123 minutes

Cast

Rosario Dawson as Gabbie

Chase W. Dillon as Travis

LaKeith Stanfield as Ben Matthias

Owen Wilson as Father Kent

Tiffany Haddish as Harriet

Danny DeVito as Bruce Davis

Jamie Lee Curtis as Madame Leota

Winona Ryder as Pat

Jared Leto as Crump / Hatbox

Director

Writer

Cinematographer

Editor

Composer

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