“Absence is a house so vast that inside you will pass through its walls and hang pictures on the air.” - Pablo Neruda
The inordinate amount of live-action Disney remakes, that no one asked for, continues with their latest, Haunted Mansion. The major difference this time is that the original movie from 2003 isn’t exactly a classic that should be left untouched like The Lion King or The Little Mermaid for example. In fact, as unwatchable as that movie is, a remake was actually the best thing for the property. One of the best rides at Disneyland deserves a better cinematic companion. So I suppose the question now is - is this new iteration the better of the two? Is it worthy of the name, Haunted Mansion?
I wish it was a simple yes. Hell I wish it was a resounding, undeniable, enthusiastic yes! But reality is so rarely that kind, unfortunately. I can answer the first question by saying it is better than the 2003 movie. I can also say it’s one of the better recent live-action movies from Disney. Regrettably none of that is saying all that much in defense of this most recent release. I almost wish it was worse than it is because it might be easier to explain than this overall lukewarm, run-of-the-mill, middle-of-the-road movie.
The best aspects of the 2023 version are the moments when it pays homage to the ride made famous with its 999 ghosts with room for one more. It shows the walls stretching along with the pictures depicting soon to be departed souls found in precarious situations. It points to the only way out of a room with no windows and no doors. There’s even a scene that depicts characters being aggressively escorted from the premises in seats greatly resembling the ride’s chosen transportation. It talks of the ghoulish residents coming alive at very specific times of the night. Madame Leota even has a prominent role to play in the plot of the story. And she just so happens to be played by the original scream queen herself, Jamie Lee Curtis.
The cast is another highlight featuring LaKeith Stanfield in the lead role. He’s quickly becoming a sought after talent and for good reason. Rosario Dawson appears with the oddest haircut you’ve ever seen. I think her hair might be haunted too but it’s never addressed. Despite the hair she is as effervescent as ever as a protective mother just trying to bring normalcy back into her and her son’s life. Speaking of her son, Chase Dillon plays Travis and quickly demonstrates he is a talented actor ahead of years. He has a bright future ahead of him. Owen Wilson is a part of the group as a wayward, goofy priest and while he isn’t all that memorable in this role, he does it well enough to refrain from being an unwanted distraction. The villain, a familiar face to the Haunted Mansion crowd, Jared Leto brings otherworldly enthusiasm to the role making his character quite sinister for a family film.
This is where its strengths mostly end. While nothing about the movie is particularly awful, it just never rises above a mediocre, repetitive jaunt into territory at times already covered in the 2003 movie. Not enough of the story steers into fresh territory to justify a two hour runtime. It loses track of where it wants to go and fills the empty spaces with rudimentary computer images of ghosts and ghouls but rarely along with them is any kind of terror delivered too. While this is most certainly a family movie, it still has room to bring the scares to a newly forming group of future horror movie enthusiasts. None of the imagery in particular inspires fear or goosebumps for anyone above the age of two. And kids that age aren’t sitting still in a movie theater anyway so it begs the question - what’s the point?
Haunted Mansion is fun and features a cast doing their best and appearing to have a lot of fun bringing their unique talents to something that otherwise doesn’t provide anything new. The story is lost at times but does have some deeper messages of trying to find the light in moments of true darkness found within profound loss. It makes the characters ponder their lives and question if an existence on the other side is a better option than their current plane where loss and grief seem to make up their every waking moment. It forces them to find the good in life, sometimes as it sits right in front of them.
Overall, Haunted Mansion is fine with some fun, creative scenes and will serve as a good time for the family. I just wouldn’t expect it to become a classic anytime soon. If this does achieve one thing it’s this - If they gave Guillermo del Toro, a known fan of the ride and its lore, the reins to create his own Haunted Mansion movie, it could be something really special.
Rated PG-13 For: some thematic elements and scary situations
Runtime: 122 minutes
After Credits Scene: No
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Family
Starring: LaKeith Stanfield, Rosarios Dawson, Owen Wilson, Tiffany Haddish
Directed By: Justin Simien
Out of 10
Story: 7/ Acting: 8/ Directing: 7/ Visuals: 7.5
Buy to Own: I could take it or leave it.
Check out the trailer below: