'Haunted Mansion' Plays It Frightfully Safe

Directed by Justin Simien

Starring LaKeith Stanfield, Tiffany Haddish, Owen Wilson, Danny DeVito, Rosario Dawson, Chase W. Dillon, Dan Levy, Jamie Lee Curtis, Jared Leto

Photo courtesy of Disney

BY Asher LubertoPublished Jul 26, 2023

More sweet than scary, Haunted Mansion doesn't have much in the way of horror, but it does have enough thrills to keep audiences entertained. There are some great moments, but just how many will depend on the audience's tolerance for clichés.

Haunted Mansion is the latest in a long line of Disney remakes and theme park ride adaptations. Being based on an amusement park attraction doesn't give the screenwriters much to work with, and the 2003 original isn't exactly a source of inspiration — but, luckily, director Justin Simien exorcises most of that movie's ghosts for a macabre delight.

Everyone involved in the project, including LaKeith Stanfield, Tiffany Haddish, Owen Wilson and Danny DeVito, have worked hard to right the 2003 film's wrongs, even if it means dipping their toes into overwrought Disney tropes. Viewers don't have to be a Mouse House connoisseur to know what's hiding within the basement and attic of this haunted house, which is now the home of Gabbie (Rosario Dawson) and her son Travis (Chase W. Dillon). After they move in, they find the house abounded with ghosts, but what they really get is a journey centred around grief. With the help of a priest (Wilson), a scientist (Stanfield), a historian (DeVito) and a fortune teller (Haddish), they try to banish the ghosts from their home.

If these are all familiar archetypes, Haddish exists in a universe all her own, playing off her brash, loud-mouthed persona to winning effect; it's not exactly normal for a character to be this joyously animated in a mansion full of eerie creatures. The actual ghost-busting in the movie is equally light, focusing more on energy and entertainment than actual scares, which is a good thing, since kids wouldn't be able to take more than the sight of DeVito speeding down a dirt pathway on a floating chair. The entire film is airy and the action scenes have no real stakes. We are denied any real jolts, which was the best part of the titular theme park ride. 

Haunted Mansion maintains the essence of Disney's remake machine. It errs on the side of safe, it doesn't want to offend or startle, and it spins a popular source material into an equally crowd-pleasing, if less effective, reboot. It's like a haunted house for kids: there's little jeopardy, but a good time nonetheless.

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