"Haunted Mansion" Film Review
By: Nathaniel Simpson
As a major fan of the Disney Parks, and Disney in general, I was both very excited but nervous for Justin Simien's 2023 "Haunted Mansion" adaptation. From the trailers to the cast to the posters leading up to the movie, there was definitely tons of reason to be excited, but also nervous at the thought of the movie making the same mistakes that the 2003 adaptation with Eddie Murphy did. Thankfully, Simien shows how he knows how to craft a great fantasy-comedy film, that is tons of fun and has a great story that does the iconic attraction justice.
Ben Matthias (LaKeith Stanfield) is a former astrophysicist that now works as a tour guide around New Orleans, drinking his way through the tours every day. When a priest named Kent (Owen Wilson) shows up at his door and tells him about a mansion that is haunting a new mother and son that moved in, Ben is reluctant until Kent tells him about the money they are willing to pay for his services as he has developed a camera that can spot paranormal activity. When he goes to meet the new residents of the mansion, a woman named Gabbie (Rosario Dawson) and her son Travis (Chase Dillon), he comes to the conclusion that they are crazy and there are no ghosts haunting them.
However, when he goes home that night and finds a ghost has followed him home and is haunting him, he returns to the mansion, promising that he will help them find out what is going on. With help from Kent, a psychic named Harriet (Tiffany Haddish), a professor that specializes in hauntings named Bruce Davis (Danny DeVito), and a psychic named Madame Leota (Jamie Lee Curtis) that is stuck in her crystal ball, they start to piece together the reasons why the mansion is being haunted. What they discover however is more terrifying than the actual ghosts haunting them, as a mysterious figure known as The Hatbox Ghost (Jared Leto), is attempting to capture his 1,000th soul to make his twisted wish come true.
This movie is an excellent ensemble piece, bringing together world-class actors to carry this movie forward; they are easily the best part about this movie. I personally am a huge fan of most of the actors present, and will see them in anything they are in. At the same time, newcomers like Dillon make me a fan of their work because of this movie. Stanfield is great in the leading role, as I knew he would be after watching him in the Boots Riley film "Sorry to Bother You". Same can be said for the likes of Wilson and DeVito, who have some fantastic roles under their belt. Together, the entire cast has fantastic chemistry with one another and kept a grin on my face the entire time. Curtis is of course fantastic as this iconic character from the Disney parks, and I wouldn't have chosen anyone else to play Madame Leota.
At the same time, Dillon gives a wonderful performance, being the adorable, awkward kid who is just trying to make his way in the world. How dare he have to face terrifying ghosts at the same time?! He has great chemistry with his on-screen mother Dawson, who is just wonderful and pleasant. I really enjoyed them together. The same cane be said for Haddish, who is absolutely hilarious in this movie. The way she presents herself to the quick quips of dialogue she has throughout the movie, Haddish just makes it work wonderfully.
Unlike the 2003 film that tried to bring the Haunted Mansion to screens successfully, this movie actually has a very compelling and fun story. Screenwriter Katie Dippold crafts the story in such a way that it keeps the viewers on the edge of their seats and engaged throughout. At the same time, she is able to craft character arcs and backgrounds for each character that simply just work in the context of the movie. It seems effortless how she was able to craft the screenplay, and Simien does a wonderful job of translating it to the screen.
In terms of the ties to the iconic attraction and the callbacks, I adore the fact that this movie simply works alongside the famous visuals and elements. From the stretching room to the Bride in the attic to the Hitchhiking Ghosts, this film has practically everything you would want for a Haunted Mansion movie. It really makes the viewer feel like they are in the Mansion alongside the characters, allowing fans of the ride to relate their experiences back to this picture.
One minor complaint I have (that really doesn't matter in the overall scheme of the movie) is I wish it was a little bit scarier. There are moments that are tense and slightly scary, but the jumpscares are sort of expected in multiple spots and sort of lose the horror charm when we get in the latter half of the movie. The film does do a great job of the haunting scenes and making it a creepy atmosphere, but consider the scene in the very beginning when Travis and Gabbie move into the house. I won't spoil it here, but I wish that those horror elements are what lasted throughout the entire runtime.
Overall, Simien and his cast do an amazing job of bringing this iconic Disney attraction to life. I enjoyed everything that this film did, and had so much fun with it. As a longtime Disney Parks fan who goes to the park in Anaheim all the time, this simply made me very happy and fulfilled all my wants for a Haunted Mansion movie. Kudos Mr. Simien and cast; thank you for giving us a film that truly makes the Disney side of me very happy.