Haunted Mansion is somewhat of an oddity. The Walt Disney Studios release calendar has recently been dominated by superheroes, live-action remakes, and animated movies. The studio had already brought the popular theme park ride to the big screen back in 2003, during the ride to movie days. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl proved to be a massive hit the same year, but The Haunted Mansion came up way short of the swashbuckling bar. Despite this, the Doombuggy comes back around to give guests another go.
This time, Dear White People director Justin Simien is at the helm. The story sees former astrophysicist and current tour guide Ben Matthias (Lakeith Stanfield) being summoned by Father Kent (Owen Wilson) to investigate a series of hauntings happening at a historic New Orleans mansion. Gabbie (Rosario Dawson) and her son Travis (Chase Dillon) have recently moved into said mansion and have experienced ungodly occurrences ever since. Attempts to leave are meaningless since the ghouls follow whoever enters the mansion wherever they may go.
Ben is initially reluctant to help, but a monetary offer convinces him to at least visit the mansion. Equipped with a camera that has the capacity to take pictures of ghosts, he quickly learns of the ghosts shadowing tendencies and realizes he has no choice but to help Gabbie and Travis.
Along with Father Kent, Ben seeks the help of clairvoyant Harriet (Tiffany Haddish) and of historian Bruce Davis (Danny DeVito). Together they use their expertise to solve the multiple mysteries that will rid the mansion of the spirited pests.
Haunted Mansion is weirdly enjoyable during the first half. The scenes inside the mansion provide a spooky ambiance and some real scares. A scene in the attic specifically stands out. The New Orleans setting is promising, and the cast of characters is an absolute delight.
Then something truly horrifying happens; it doesn’t end. During the second half, Haunted Mansion dramatically pivots for the worst. The setting pays no dividends. Important reveals are not only obvious but come too late. Scares become childish gags, and the too-macabre-for-children villain Crump (Jared Leto) becomes tiresome. The film is extended for 25 minutes for no reason other than to presumably throw in more product placement references. What begins as an enjoyable watch ends up being tiresome and overlong.
The talent involved is capable of something better. No one reflects this more than Lakeith Stanfield. His performance is more dedicated than what the final product deserves. He continuously proves he takes no roles for granted, and his efforts in Haunted Mansion are no exception.
Haunted Mansion gives a glimpse of what could have been. Deep down it is a subdued meditation on grief. Gabbie, Ben, and Travis all find common ground as they struggle to find their place amid grief. Not dissimilar, the 999 inhabitants roam around aimlessly seeking purpose in the afterlife. Unfortunately, the film fails to elevate the theme to any real level of poignancy, even though Stanfield tries his darndest.
Completing the creative oddities is figuring out who the target audience is. The film openly admits it may be too intense for younger viewers by Gabbie covering her son’s ears whenever dark subjects are being discussed. Yet, the epilogue is too silly for anyone older than the age of 12. Perhaps parents can bring their grade-schoolers to watch with 25 minutes remaining. However, the niche Haunted Mansion Ride fan club will undoubtedly delight in spotting all the easter eggs alluding to the ride.
Haunted Mansion will not become the next lucrative Disney franchise. It is better tailored for the Disney+ streaming service as opposed to the silver screen. Undoubtedly, the movie will get millions (we think) of streams during the upcoming Halloween season. Hopefully, this does not convince studio heads to give it another cinematic go.