Directed by Christopher Landon — Screenplay by Christopher Landon.
Christopher Landon is a rather interesting up-and-coming horror filmmaker. Reportedly scheduled to remake Frank Marshall’s Arachnophobia, Landon has made a career off taking well-trod genre fare and giving it a modern feel and often with a comedic slant. Among other things, he co-wrote D. J. Caruso’s Disturbia (a thriller that is so close to Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window in the concept that it led to a lawsuit) and several Paranormal Activity films, before he became a household name for horror film fans by writing and directing his Happy Death Day films (slasher comedies that runs with the time-loop concept from Harold Ramis’ Groundhog Day) and Freaky, 2020s horror comedy reinterpretation of the classic body swap story Freaky Friday. His latest film, We Have A Ghost, is similarly placed squarely in the horror-comedy genre-blend and it, too, wears its inspirations on its sleeves. Most of Landon’s previous films as a director have been decent-to-good, and although We Have A Ghost doesn’t reach its full potential, it’s still a pretty decent but derivative little family film.
Based on a short story written by Geoff Manaugh, We Have A Ghost follows the Presley family as they move into an abandoned fixer-upper that they don’t know is haunted. Kevin (played by Jahi Winston) is the first to discover the ghost, ‘Ernest’ (played by David Harbour), whose attempts to scare him are mostly amusing to Kevin. Eventually, Kevin starts to befriend the ghost, who is unable to talk, and he becomes interested in finding out who Ernest really was. When the rest of the family finds out about Ernest things change. Much to Kevin’s disappointment, Kevin’s father, Frank (played by Anthony Mackie), wants to upload videos of the ghost to the internet and use them to make money and gain fame. Soon the family of four become small-time celebrities as their videos go viral and interest both weirdos, online influencers, reality TV mediums, and the government, the latter of which want to capture the friendly ghostly apparition.
The film reveals its tone immediately. It opens with a wide shot of a house in a street at night. It’s a static shot, i.e. we don’t see the camera move, but we do see the lights turn on inside of a second-story room, and then we see a family run screaming out the front door, rush into a car, and drive off in desperation. Once they’ve left, the door slams shut and the lights turn off. This could be played in a terrifying way, with ominous music, flickering lights of the lamppost nearby, or something like that. But instead, the title comes up with bold letters and, ultimately, an emoji of a ghost. Tone can be all about execution, and this opening firmly situates this in the tongue-in-cheek horror comedy genre. That said, it isn’t ultimately all that funny. It’s really more of a family horror-comedy that evokes memories of films like E.T., Casper, and Beetlejuice. As I mentioned in the introduction, the extent to which it is derivative shouldn’t surprise anyone familiar with Christopher Landon’s work, but it is true that it doesn’t really do all that much on its own to set it apart from those inspirations.
As I mentioned, it isn’t really all that funny, but there are some scenes that really work. Jennifer Coolidge makes an appearance as a reality television medium who knows everything she has claimed to believe in beforehand was all bullshit. Coolidge is a fun presence, but it’s an all too short appearance, and, for me, most of the humor came from seeing Ernest try to get a reaction out of her. Coolidge and Notaro’s roles feel quite silly, and I think it would have been a better choice to have had one of these cut to make more room for development and character detail for the rest of the Presley family, as they can sometimes feel quite underwritten. I also think there are one or two jokes that feel a little bit too adult for this kind of family horror-comedy film.
But, on the whole, I think the reason this film works is because of a handful of well-tuned performances. Jahi Winston works well as the film’s rather lonely protagonist, with Isabella Russo doing a solid job as his love interest. While I do think they could’ve done a better job in fleshing out the Presley family as a whole, Anthony Mackie does good work as the somewhat selfish father desperate to make it big. Eventually, he has this really effective monologue that helps make his character more believable. Then, of course, there is David Harbour’s ghost. I was worried that it would just be slap-sticky groans and moans since his character couldn’t really speak. But Harbour actually manages to do a lot with a little to make his character both fun to watch and have an emotional center that works (especially in the film’s touching conclusion).
Christopher Landon’s We Have A Ghost isn’t as funny as Landon’s previous horror-comedy hits. Still, solid performances from Winston, Mackie, Russo, and, especially, Harbour help to make this unoriginal haunted house film work relatively well. It, eventually, goes in a direction that allows for a relatively strong car chase action sequence, and even though the film is very long, I would say that there is enough plot here to justify the runtime. That said, I think this would’ve gone down even smoother if it had cut a subplot and worked harder on establishing the family dynamics which the film is built upon.
6 out of 10
– Review Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.