This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labour of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn't exist.
It's been two decades since Eddie Murphy starred in The Haunted Mansion. Now, 20 years later, Disney is returning to its ghostly beginnings in Haunted Mansion, which serves as a greater ode to its theme park attraction. Initially set to release towards the start of the year, the film has undergone talent changes and production delays until its set release at the back end of summer – hoping to boost its audience.
Director Justin Simien spearheads the movement for remakes to remain faithful to their inspiration. His passion for the ride from his time at the parks features in the marvellous set pieces and the clever use of the ghouls that roam the mansion. The result is an astoundingly charming, and sincere, and possibly one of the year's most enjoyable releases.
The opening titles introduce us to Gabbie (Rosario Dawson) and her son, Travis (Chase W. Dillion) who hope for a new beginning when they discover their new home inhabited by 999 haunts. After later determining that these spirits are unable to detach from any individual who steps into the mansion, the ensemble largely accompanies each other throughout the rest of the film. It becomes no surprise after the first twenty minutes that these characters are what make the film. In the hands of Kate Dippold, each protagonist ensures a respective significance, and no character felt superfluous.
As a consequence, Haunted Mansion is inundate with outstanding performances. It almost becomes difficult to single out a small number of them. With that in mind, ‘Fr' Kent (Owen Wilson) often steals the show with his hilarity that frequently erupts in laugh-out-loud amusement whilst he uplifts the spirit of the film (pardon the pun). What is notable is that the humour sustains itself throughout in multiple characters (Tiffany Haddish, Danny DeVito), making this film really at its best when it's working with its comedic timing and beats.
Dippold's talent for effortlessly balancing humour alongside such intense themes of grief and loss is remarkable. The narrative (although somewhat predictable at times) is strong enough that it can deliver seamlessly a heartfelt story and have this never get lost amongst the gags or incredibly detailed set designs. Such creative decisions contribute to LaKeith Stanfield's raw, emotion-led performance as Ben. On occasion, incredibly poignant moments of grief were elevated by other members of the ensemble and made it feel as though the group were truly a family navigating their way through not only the distress of these hauntings but the loss of loved ones.
If one thing is evident, it's that Simien is having an absolute blast here. He independently expands on the attraction, whilst still engaging with the most enjoyable parts of the ride on the right side of ‘spook'. From the Stretching Room to the inclusion of the legendary Hatbox Ghost (Jared Leto); whose design is every bit menacing as it is spectacular; Simien crafts a project that is unique and fresh, with small nods to the ride that are sure-fire ways of appealing to its original fans. It's thoroughly enjoyable to watch Simien recreate the magic of the parks in a similar way with this film, proving that his knowledge of the attraction from his time working at Disneyland did not go to waste.
Haunted Mansion may not be a truthfully scary viewing, but it does wholeheartedly reinvent the history of its predecessor. Watching the cast have an unmistakably great time in each other's presence, whilst still delivering knockout performances all-round, is a pleasure deserving of praise. The film is enjoyable throughout and will namely appeal to a much larger audience outside of children and owes terrific homage to the beloved ride. Whilst Haunted Mansion may not be a cinematic masterpiece, it is arguably one of the finest remakes in recent years that, with every bit of luck, will stand strong in Disney's collection for many years to come.
Haunted Mansion will release in UK cinemas on August 11th