- Rosario Dawson, Owen Wilson, Danny DeVito, Jamie Lee Curtis
- Katie Dippold
- Comedy, Drama, Family, Horror
- Release date
- July 28, 2023
Based on the Disneyland ride of the same name, this Haunted Mansion is the second adaptation of the half-century-old attraction.
Set on the outskirts of New Orleans, mother and son duo Gabbie and Travis and an ever-expanding cast of characters find themselves at the center of a hundreds-year-old mystery, a mystery they must solve. For if they do not, one of them will become the next permanent resident of the Haunted Mansion.
Rosario Dawson stars as Gabbie, a medical professional and recently single mother trying to get a fresh start with her son. Dawson, always a capable performer, does about as much as one can with her character. Like the rest of the cast, she has to contend with vanilla and pedestrian dialogue as her character navigates a story of endless clichés that feels as preprogrammed as the ride for which it is named. That being said, she seems to never fully commit to the role.
There’s very little sense of visible panic for her 9-year-old son when he’s repeatedly placed in life-and-death situations. Rather, she reacts much the same as she does when having difficulty making breakfast in another scene. Her character’s stoicism is such that, in one particular instance, she calmly reminds her son to fasten his seat belt before they speed away after their first “terrified” confrontation with the undead. Marcus Aurelius would be proud.
However, virtually all of the known performers are muted versions of what we’ve seen in other pieces. Owen Wilson plays Owen Wilson without the pizzaz, and Danny DeVito plays a less casaba-banging variation of his It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia character. Still, muted reactions could very well have been a conscious decision on the part of the filmmakers to help keep the film from being too frightening for its intended audience.
Along those lines, while Haunted Mansion is in no danger of keeping adults up at night, it largely foregoes its 2003 predecessor’s farcicality (though it does try and fail at comedy on multiple occasions). Instead, it leans much more heavily into horror and to much greater effect, offering up one or two moderately impactful, if telegraphed and unoriginal, jump scares.
The studio’s sanitized and safe approach is evident in every scene, bit of dialogue, and plot point. Whereas movies like 1990’s Witches benefited from risk-takers like Jim Henson (producer), 2023’s Haunted Mansion feels very much as though it was written by 2016’s Lady-Ghostbuster’s Katie Dippold (it was), focused-grouped, punched up by a room full of writers, rinsed and repeated.
All in all, Haunted Mansion isn’t a terrible film. The action is serviceable even with its sporadic and awkward attempts to squeeze a three-dimensional block into a two-dimensional hole with LaKeith Stanfield’s character Ben’s unnecessary and momentum-killing backstory flashbacks. The plot (which isn’t revealed until almost an hour in), performances, and dialogue, while predictable and clichéd, are mostly sufficient to keep you from playing World Series of Poker on your phone while your kids enjoy the movie. At least it has a plot, unlike this summer’s inexplicable hit, Barbie.
INAPPROPRIATE ELEMENTS FOR CHILDREN in HAUNTED MANSION
- This is a movie only appropriate for a very select age group. The plentiful scares are too frightening for the very young yet too unremarkable and immature for anyone over the age of 12.
- There are a handful of times in which God’s name is used in vain (ex: “my God,” “oh God,” etc.).
Earning the movie back some non-woke points, one of its key plot devices is dependent on the implicitly understood and explicitly stated importance of having a stable and loving father in the home.
Also, I didn’t ding it for the “diverse” nature of the bulk of its main cast for a good reason: It’s not based on a work of fiction with long-established caucasian characters that have been DEI swapped (unlike The Little Mermaid and the upcoming Snow White).
- Christianity is repeatedly used as a joke (to the point of out-and-out blasphemy) and is impotent in the face of evil, while conversely, science and black magic are shown to be good, true, and effective against the undead.
- Every white person is either an evil ghost, a con man, or a goofball, while every person of color is thoughtful, a genius, or yet to realize their full and tremendous potential.
- The primary antagonist is a ghost with the last name Crump and while he is likely named after the last living Imagineer to have worked on the original Disney ride, Rolly Crump, it is no small coincidence that the father of the ghost whose last name happens to rhyme with a particular former American president reviled by the Hollywood Left was an evil and heartless real estate tycoon whose love of money in conjunction with his mental and emotional abuse drove Allistor to even greater heights of evil. Dippold’s arm must still be sore from patting herself on the back for that one.
- One of the main characters who happens to be black makes a crack about never having thought that he would ever say “call the police.” Do you get it? All police officers are racist. Hilarious.
James Carrick is a passionate film enthusiast with a degree in theater and philosophy. James approaches dramatic criticism from a philosophic foundation grounded in aesthetics and ethics, offering insight and analysis that reveals layers of cinematic narrative with a touch of irreverence and a dash of snark.