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Review: The Mediocre Overnight at “Haunted Mansion”

Think back to 2003. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King closed out the blockbuster adaptation series. Love Actually became the banner Romcom for a generation of adoring fans. Tarantino dropped part one of the Kill Bill saga whilst foreign cult classics like Oldboy and Memories of Murder hit our shores. And while they weren’t the first ventures for Disney in turning their amusement park rides into films, 2003 saw their two biggest attempts to cash in on nostalgia. And while The Haunted Mansion didn’t fare as well as a group of grubby pirates, it was their first stab at bringing that franchise to life. Now, 20 years later, they are finally taking another stab at creating a new film series for fans.

Young and talented, though a bit of an awkward socializer, astrophysicist Ben Matthias (LaKeith Stanfield) has been working on creating an optical lens that would ultimately let the viewer detect dark matter. But when some things in his life go awry, he veers that technology toward something else. When it all seems hopeless though, he gives up. 

Photo by Disney/Disney - © 2023 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

When a single mother, Gabbie (Rosario Dawson) and her son Travis (Chase W. Dillon) move into a nearby haunted mansion, they seek the assistance of a priest, Father Kent (Owen Wilson) to figure out how they can rid their home of these pesky ghosts. Hearing that Ben’s work supposedly allows him to photograph ghosts, he recruits his help. Once a team of experts is formed, they work into the midnight hours to solve the mystery of the Haunted Mansion.

While Haunted Mansion is not a down in the dumps failure, it’s a wonky clump of different ideas that stuck together and pushed through the door. While it can be funny (Owen Wilson steals every scene he’s in), early sections of the film are actually sufficiently creepy. So much so that I would say the first nod of the haunting is too much for younger audiences that many think the film is geared to. It’s not a majority of the film, and really only slots up a few short scenes, but it is surprising how far they ended up going in one direction at times.

Photo by Disney/Disney - © 2023 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Any good movie worth its salt needs a story, but the plot is another area where the writers seemed to lean on the heavy side when they didn’t need to. You want a film to have weight and not just try and be a silly laugh/scare fest, but too many attempts to be more important that Haunted Mansion needs to be dragged the entire film down as a whole. Especially when they try to tie in a part of Travis’s story that is meant to set up a small twist, but it’s ultimately a major point of plot contradiction. 

There are tons of missed opportunities, too. This should have been an outlet for out of the box, unexpected cameos to fill the roles of all the ghosts inhabiting the mansion. Instead, one cameo of the living is thrown right into the opening credits, leaving it unsurprising as they appear next to the one big unnamed cameo. They also have Danny DeVito’s ex Taxi castmate Marilu Henner in the opening of the film with her own credit…and then she disappears, never to be seen again. No interaction with Danny or anyone else in the film. What is the point?

Worst of all, you hire Jared Leto to play your main villain. This is nothing against Leto as a person or actor, either. They use his image in some flashback photos/paintings for a good second, but the rest of the character is not him. And sure, they say he is the voice actor, but the voice is so heavily modulated, you would have no idea. It could have been the producers Uncle recording the lines, you’d never know. It all seems so utterly pointless. Just another name to throw into the mix hoping to sell tickets.

There were some good chuckles to be had and no one was stuck squirming in their seat just waiting for the thing to end; even though it was a bit longer than it needed to be. But this is not a revolutionary opening to a new yearly franchise, and just another ok movie that one day will be called another dud.

Photo by Disney/Disney - © 2023 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Final Grade: C    

Check out more of Matthew’s articles

Here’s the trailer of the film.

Matthew Schuchman
Matthew Schuchman
In the early 90s, while at the video store with his friends who wanted to rent Don’t Tell Mom The Babysitter's Dead, Matthew asked the clerk if they had any copies of Naked Lunch available. A film buff from an early age, he would turn his fascination into his own review site in 2010; Movie Review from Gene Shalit’s Moustache. From there, he provided his voice to such publications as Den of Geek, Coming Soon, and Verbicide magazine as a film reviewer and talent interviewer.


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