Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Ten Days of Terror!: Haunted Mansion

Film: Haunted Mansion
Format: Streaming video from Disney Plus on Fire!

There are a few people in the movie business I have hitched my metaphorical wagon to, and sometimes that’s going to get me in trouble. So far, I haven’t been terribly hurt by Guillermo del Toro or Greta Gerwig. However, Haunted Mansion has put a little damper on my dedication to seeing anything featuring LaKeith Stanfield. Don’t get me wrong; I will probably still watch anything I find that has him in it, but the reality of this film has shaken me a little.

The truth isn’t that Haunted Mansion is a bad movie; it’s just not a very good one, and much of the problem comes from the fact that it’s incredibly predictable. And, even worse than that, the predictability happens because there are certain parameters set up where we as the audience know what the bad guy needs to be victorious, the characters in the movie know what the bad guy has to do to be victorious, and we watch the characters knowingly do the thing that the bad guy needs them to do for him to be victorious. Imagine a business rival telling you that they could destroy your business if they had access to your files, and you responding by handing them your laptop. That’s Haunted Mansion.

Ben Matthias (LaKeith Stanfield) is an astrophysicist working with creating a camera to see dark matter. He meets a woman named Alyssa (Charity Jordan) at a party. Despite the fact that she is the opposite of a scientist—she’s a guide for a New Orleans ghost tour—they become an item and are eventually married. But when the plot actually starts, Ben is now running her tour, and he is a shell of the man we see at the start of the film.

We learn a few things—some immediately and some eventually. Alyssa died in a car accident, which is why Ben is now the way he is. We also learn that he is disgraced because his camera ends up being used for something like spectral photography. He is approached by Father Kent (Owen Wilson), who tells him that he has an opportunity for Ben to help someone out. A woman named Gabbie (Rosario Dawson) and her son Travis (Chase W. Dillon) have moved into a huge mansion in the hopes of turning it into a bed and breakfast. Unfortunately, the house is haunted by hundreds of ghosts. Ben goes to check it out, decides that he didn’t find anything, and returns home only to find that one of the ghosts has come with him, and the only way to get rid of it is to go back to the house.

Over time, we’re going to add a few more people. These will include a psychic medium (Tiffany Haddish) and a Tulane history professor (Danny DeVito). Through investigation, both real-world and more supernatural, the group of people that is now forced to stay at the mansion until the supernatural infestation can be dealt with discover a dark and terrible plot. Essentially, an ancient ghost (Jared Leto) is collecting spirits in the house, aided initially by an occupant (J.R. Adduci) and a medium (Jamie Lee Curtis) doing seances. When he reaches 1000 spirits in the house, he will be able to free himself. And, naturally, he’s at 999 and needs the last spirit to be willing to die to free him. Keep this in mind—he needs the last spirit to be a person who will willingly die and become a spirit trapped in the house.

So, based on what I said at the top, are you going to be terribly surprised when you find out how the third act is going to play out? I’m going to put it under a spoiler tag—I won’t reveal the full ending, but you won’t have any trouble figuring it out.

* * * WATCH OUT! GHOSTS! * * *

We learn that Travis’s father is dead, and initially, despite knowing that it would free the big bad ghost and ultimately trap him, it’s Travis (a literal child) who plans on dying. Eventually, though, after talking Travis out of killing himself—a literal child killing himself—Ben decides that he wants to die so he can see his wife. Again, this is despite knowing that this will release the big bad ghost into the world and would trap him in the mansion…where his wife isn’t.

* * * GHOSTS ARE GONE! * * *

The problem with Haunted Mansion isn’t that it can’t decide between humor and horror, so it doesn’t really do either. The problem isn’t that the humor is exactly what you expect all the way through—the jokes are obvious before they land. The problem isn’t that in a very real sense, you’ve seen this before. The problem is that to make this plot work, the characters have to be too stupid to live. That’s especially the case with Ben, who is a (presumably) PhD astrophysicist.

Filmmakers, please stop underestimating the intelligence of your audience, because when you do, you get this. Not even the surprise appearances of Winona Ryder and Daniel Levy, not the stacked cast or Disney magic can save you when you assume that the people watching are dumb.

Why to watch Haunted Mansion: That cast.
Why not to watch: It is staggeringly predictable.


  1. My son and husband loved this and I was just....meh. I'm sick of Tiffany Haddish and Owen Wilson at this point.

    1. I'm with you. I was angry at how predictable this was. It could've been so much better.

  2. Guillermo del Toro was supposed to direct this film and wanted to make it very scary but Disney got too scared of his vision. I have no interest in this. Plus, I fucking loathe Jared Leto. He's the reason method acting is shit and his band fucking sucks. I hope all of his fans fucking kill themselves.

    1. You're completely safe not seeing this. It's honestly not worth your time or attention.

      Seriously, watch something you know you like instead. It's time better spent.