Once upon a time a movie based on an amusement park ride would have been a laughable concept. But in 2003 Disney rewrote those rules with the one-two punch of Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl and The Haunted Mansion.
A modest hit compared to Jack Sparrow’s maiden big screen voyage, The Haunted Mansion (based on the 1969 Disneyland attraction) has enjoyed a successful afterlife on various platforms down the years and as a result it’s long been earmarked as a property ripe for remaking.
And so, twenty years after our first trip to Gracey Manor, it falls to writer Katie Dippold (Ghostbusters 2016), director Justin Simien (Dear White People) and star LaKeith Stanfield (Get Out) to take us back to Louisiana’s most haunted locale for another encounter with the mansion’s resident psychic, Madame Leota (Jamie Lee Curtis).
This new incarnation of the franchise follows single mother, Gabbie (Rosario Dawson) and her young son Travis (Chase W Dillon) as they move into the ghost-infested manor house and become embroiled in the rolling paranormal activities of its unearthly occupants.
Drawing in the help of grief-stricken paranormal tour guide, Ben (Stanfield), dubious priest Father Kent (Owen Wilson), historian Professor Davis (Danny DeVito) and eccentric psychic, Harriet (Tiffany Haddish), this unlikely gang are soon plunged into a supernatural race against time to stop Jared Leto’s nefarious Hatbox Ghost from capturing his one thousandth soul and unleashing hell on Earth. So far, so formulaic…
But a sense of overfamiliarity is only one part of the film’s problem. A bigger one is that, despite able direction by Simien and the best efforts of a game cast, Haunted Mansion seems uncertain of its identity. Is it a tongue-in-cheek romp inside a haunted house? A thoughtful meditation on grief? Or is it a family-friendly gateway to the wider horror genre? In a sense it’s all of those things… and yet none of them.
Admittedly, things do pick up around the halfway point when all the players are finally assembled inside the titular mansion and the stakes are handily outlined by Jamie Lee Curtis in a succinct flashback. But it’s too little too late. And as the film creaks towards its CGI-festooned finale, you’re left with a weary sense of inevitability and a desire for Gracey Manor to close its doors once more.
Haunted Mansion will be released in cinemas on 11 August