Disney returns to theaters with a remake of Haunted Mansion, the theme park ride and 2003 film that some fans know exceptionally well. Only two decades removed from the last iteration of Haunted Mansion, I was extremely hopeful that Disney would lean into the more frightening side of things with a PG-13 rating, however it’s clear that they’re still targeting young families and are too afraid themselves to really make something scary. I was more than disappointed by the lack of spooks and scares in the film, but I did manage to find some enjoyment in the more emotional moments that largely deal with grief and how we as humans try to move forward while carrying it.
LaKeith Stanfield is the biggest standout in the film, bringing a weightiness to his role as a husband still grieving from the loss of his wife and seemingly unable to progress his own life in a healthy manner. His character Ben is an astrophysicist who has created a sort of camera that allows you to view the unseeable in the real world, meaning that something like spirits could be captured in a photo. This project of his became an obsession, as all he really wanted was a chance to see his wife one last time and to tell her that he loves her. Unfortunately, his science was deemed silly and nothing ever came from the use of the camera until a mother and son require his help to get a better understanding of their new haunted mansion.
Heading north to this mysterious mansion, Ben meets Gabbie and Travis (played by Rosario Dawson and Chase Dillon) who have just moved down to New Orleans and are already being chased by spirits in their new home. Of course, Ben doesn’t believe until he sees things with his own eyes and by then it’s already too late; he’s stuck at the mansion trying to find a way back. Throw in Owen Wilson as a man of God, Tiffany Haddish as a Medium, and Danny DeVito as a haunted mansion expert and you should have all the trappings for an enjoyable romp at the movies!
Unfortunately for the Haunted Mansion, an enjoyable romp is all this film really pans out to as it severely underuses any small scares along this “haunted” journey. Never daring to dip a toe in the realm of horror, Haunted Mansion ends up feeling like a big letdown and just another cash grab for Disney, though I don’t imagine it doing too well with Barbie and Oppenheimer dominating the theatrical experience worldwide. It’s a shame because the makeup of this film is so talented and it feels like under a different banner, perhaps they would’ve been able to blend the horror and emotion in a way that really excites and surprises audiences. Alas, Disney will continue to get in their own way until they learn to create something that totally catches audiences off guard. For me, I feel like it’s time for them to have two separate divisions for children and for adults, because even the Disney adults will shrug their shoulders at this remake.
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