Combustible Celluloid Review - Haunted Mansion (2023), Katie Dippold, Justin Simien, LaKeith Stanfield, Rosario Dawson, Owen Wilson, Chase Dillon, Tiffany Haddish, Danny DeVito, Jamie Lee Curtis, Jared Leto, Winona Ryder, Dan Levy, Hasan Minhaj
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With: LaKeith Stanfield, Rosario Dawson, Owen Wilson, Chase Dillon, Tiffany Haddish, Danny DeVito, Jamie Lee Curtis, Jared Leto, Winona Ryder, Dan Levy, Hasan Minhaj
Written by: Katie Dippold
Directed by: Justin Simien
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some thematic elements and scary action
Running Time: 123
Date: 07/28/2023

Haunted Mansion (2023)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Top Hatbox

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

I missed the press screening of Justin Simien's Haunted Mansion due to getting my first case of COVID, so I had the chance to catch up with it later, after most reviewers had skewered it. Maybe going in knowing about the blasé response gave me some perspective and allowed me to see the other side of the coin. I found it to be a pleasing, enjoyable movie, with a great cast, some funny jokes, some menacing ghosts, and a delightful production design that brought back fond memories of the Disneyland ride. (I wouldn't hesitate to say that it could join Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl and Jungle Cruise for a fun trilogy.) Arriving almost twenty years after the much-despised Eddie Murphy film The Haunted Mansion, the new film starts with Ben (LaKeith Stanfield), once an astrophysicist who developed a camera with the ability to photograph ghosts, but now a hard-drinking ghost tour guide in New Orleans.

We meet Gabbie (Rosario Dawson) and her son Travis (Chase W. Dillon) — a well-dressed outcast clad in a bow-tie — arriving at the titular mansion, all ready to move in. Not five minutes go by before they find out it's infested with ghosts, but the catch is that they can't leave. The ghosts follow wherever they go. Their only hope is to camp out in the living room and try to find help. Father Kent (Owen Wilson) shows up at Ben's door with a cash offer to take photos of the house. They are later joined by psychic Harriet (Tiffany Haddish) and owlish professor and paranormal nut Ben (Danny DeVito). What follows is a pretty standard "finding the origin" of the haunting, which seems to be centered on the menacing Hatbox Ghost (a completely disguised Jared Leto). They locate the imprisoned medium Madame Leota (Jamie Lee Curtis) and learn that they must find the ghost's true identity, obtain a physical object he once owned, and perform a ritual before the ghost snags his 1000th soul and achieves immense power (or something).

The arc is familiar, but it's comforting, just as a trip to Disneyland is meant to be. My only real quibble is that, as the movie stretches from its middle third to its final third, the energy flags as Simien (Dear White People, Bad Hair) struggles to tie together the various threads, like wrestling an octopus. At one point, I was ready for things to get a move-on. But an adorable coda set on Halloween sent me out with a smile. I loved the easy repartee among the entire cast; the casting director that assembled them is a genius. Wilson and Stanfield both have a laid-back style, Wilson's self-deprecating to Stanfield's quiet cool, and no one (except Leto) goes very big. Even Haddish, who is becoming a better and better performer with every film, tones down her usual style to fit the mood and her co-stars. Plus, they look cool. The costumes are snappy and stylish, in the best way. Indeed, I wouldn't mind getting dressed up with them and hanging out at this Mansion again someday.

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