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Haunted Mansion Review

Author’s note: This Haunted Mansion review was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors on strike, the film being covered here wouldn’t exist. If you are interested in helping those workers on strike, please consider giving to the Entertainment Community Fund.

After a weekend of box office record breaking, Disney’s Haunted Mansion feels like an anti-climax. Granted, no one could have expected how “Barbenheimer” would capture people’s attention, but in this IP-dominated summer, it was nice to see movies made with artistic intent (even if Barbie is based on a toy, the movie certainly didn’t play like it was corporate product).

Haunted Mansion Review

This is the third time Disney’s tried to make Haunted Mansion happen. I even forgot there was an Eddie Murphy movie based on the popular Disneyland ride.

Director Justin Simien is given a lot of budget and a lot of leeway to play with, but Haunted Mansion still feels, for a good length of its running time, like a film made by committee. The jokes are stale, and the scares are tame. There is so much canned CGI that none of the effects feel in any way real. Maybe that’s the intent, so as not to disturb younger viewers. But it makes for an inert family movie.

Haunted Mansion Review

Even the timing is off on Haunted Mansion; it so obviously plays like a movie that would probably play better at Halloween, but to stick it at the end of July feels reductive and sloppy. Perhaps Disney timed it so that it will show up on their streaming network just in time for October, but considering the way streaming is performing lately, it’s like Disney left money on the table.

There aren’t very many family-friendly horror movies making the rounds these days, and in the spirit of the holiday I bet Haunted Mansion would click better with the kids in the fall. The Nightmare Before Christmas certainly did. But maybe Haunted Mansion will pick up that audience as it gets discovered on Disney+.

Haunted Mansion Review

I know a few people who adore the Disney ride. There’s even quite a bit of lore behind it all; lore interesting enough that even Guillermo del Toro was going to play with it as a movie at one point.

Many people in the horror community have a deep fondness for it, and for those people I imagine the movie will play very well. But for those of us who are casual fans at best, Haunted Mansion probably won’t have much of an impact.

Ben Matthias (LaKeith Stanfield) is an astrophysicist and inventor who recently suffered the loss of his wife. Now resigned to giving ghost tours of New Orleans, Ben is a man of little faith. But when Gabbie (Rosario Dawson) and her son Travis (Chase Dillon) ask him to examine their new home, there’s just enough strange doings going on that Ben brings in some people to help discover what exactly is happening, including a suspiciously earnest priest (Owen Wilson), a not-very-successful medium (Tiffany Haddish), and a professor of parapsychology (Danny DeVito).

It soon becomes apparent that there’s an entity inside this place, and that this Hatbox Ghost (Jared Leto) has an agenda to find eternal power in the halls of the mansion.

Haunted Mansion is one of those movies that is full of characters that never feel real, but simply the creation of a bunch of writers with little to no investment in what they are doing, and most of the performances match. It’s hard to get excited about much when everyone looks as bored as most of this cast does.

However, the movie does have one saving grace, and that’s the work of LaKeith Stanfield. He never feels like he’s painting by numbers. It’s strange to say that he steals the movie, considering he’s the lead, but Stanfield is always committed to the film, and gives us a genuinely emotional and rich performance.

During one particular scene, Stanfield makes us feel his grief, and it’s a wonderfully human moment in a movie that has far too few of them. Everyone else seems to be reacting to green screen and lackadaisically going through the motions, but not LaKeith.

He’s a bright spot and gives a very compassionate performance, and nearly lifts the film out of its doldrums. He’s charming, funny, and committed.

It’s too bad Stanfield wasn’t given a better movie or a better script. Even the jump scares feel so calculated that they barely register.

I did like the backdrop of New Orleans for the ghostly goings-on, and I wish the movie had explored that a bit further. But the climax is mostly just flashing lights and poor overworked computer-effects artists pounding away at keyboards. It doesn’t have very much soul to it, except for what Stanfield provides.

Stanfield deserves to headline a better movie, and perhaps he will, because he’s clearly a star and elevates Haunted Mansion to a watchable level. A movie like this doesn’t need to be overly scary, but as an entry point in the horror genre it should at least inspire some kind of passion.

The ride is a lot of fun, but Haunted Mansion as a movie feels too long, too labored, and doesn’t give us enough real characters, other than LaKeith’s, to sympathize with or relate to. Maybe fourth time’s the charm? I’m certain Disney will likely revisit this IP in the future. If so, give us something that scares us without making us feel like we’re exiting through the gift shop.


The Walt Disney Studios will release Haunted Mansion in theaters on Friday, July 28, 2023. The film is rated PG-13 for some thematic elements and scary action.