Disney explores letting go of trauma in new 'Haunted Mansion' movie

Lakeith Stanfield, Danny DeVito and Owen Wilson shine in horror flick made for all

28 July 2023 - 16:00 By linda radebe
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Image from the 'Haunted Mansion' premiere.
Image from the 'Haunted Mansion' premiere.
Image: Photo by Eamonn M. McCormack/Getty Images for Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures UK

Haunted Mansion is a supernatural comedy film directed by Dear White People director Justin Simien and featuring Lakeith Stanfield, Rosario Dawson, Owen Wilson, Tiffany Haddish, Jared Leto and Danny DeVito in starring roles. The film is not to be confused with The Haunted Mansion from 2003 starring Eddie Murphy, also from Disney. This is a new take that follows a single mother named Gabbie played by Rosario Dawson as she moves to a new house in New Orleans with her 9-year-old son. She enlists a group of people made up of Stanfield, Wilson, Haddish and DeVito to help exorcise the mansion and save the day, what could possibly go wrong...? 

It’s got wonderful performances and those are the film's true stars, with Stanfield, Wilson and DeVito being the biggest highlights. However, even their good performances cannot save this film’s surprisingly underdeveloped writing. A lot of work is missing in the writing that makes the characters' journeys feel incomplete and for some of them unearned. What Haunted Mansion does perfectly is hide the weak character development under its visual effects, which are subpar considering the budget of this film.

On July 28, the doors to the Haunted Mansion open. See Disney’s Haunted Mansion only in theaters. Get tickets now: www.fandango.com/hauntedmansion

For those who can’t really stomach horror, this one is for you, as this film doesn’t hit any of its horror beats perfectly and that makes it more easily digestible for non-horror fans. It’s also a film with a lot of humour which is meant to undercut the scares; sometimes those humorous tones land and sometimes they don’t. 

The film’s message of letting go of grief before it buries you is heard loud and clear, but I can’t help but find even that is underdeveloped. A few well-acted emotional scenes here and there are not enough to connect the threads and add weight and depth to this film. The humour and grief elements combined create a tonal struggle within the film because its core message of grief is dark. Coupled with it being a horror movie, when you add this family-friendly humour there’s an imbalance and it can create confusion. You may find yourself wondering which parts of it you enjoyed more because ultimately the film lacks cohesion. 

The other side of Haunted Mansion is the group of misfits coming together to save the day and finding friendship and family within each other. That element works well, largely due to the chemistry of the cast who are so good together. 

While Haunted Mansion may lack well-rounded emotional depth, genuine scares, eye-catching visuals and that pesky little tonal struggle within itself, the entertainment value is there and the cast is good. They are engaging enough to keep you glued to the screen and sometimes that’s all that matters. 

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