NEW YORK (OSV News) – Those who enter “Haunted Mansion” (Disney) in search of laughs will likely come away from it more satisfied than those who go in seeking eerie chills. As for the film’s appropriate audience, it’s a project best suited to grown-ups, though mature teens will probably be equipped to take it on as well.
Set in New Orleans, director Justin Simien’s adaptation of a theme park attraction features an ensemble cast led by LaKeith Stanfield as gruffly antisocial scientist Ben. Resolutely skeptical where the paranormal is concerned, Ben is unexpectedly invited to investigate the titular dwelling by a total stranger, sketchy clergyman Father Kent (Owen Wilson).
Father Kent is acting on behalf of the house’s new owner, single mom Gabbie (Rosario Dawson), who lives there with her socially awkward preteen son Travis (Chase W. Dillon). For the right price, Ben agrees to ease their worries by carrying out a perfunctory inspection, at the end of which he’ll reassure them that the place is ghost-free.
As others have found out before him, however, Ben discovers that, in fact, the structure is chockablock with scary sprites. Not only that, but one or another of this array of wraiths invariably follows any visitor to their habitation home and compels him or her to return to it.
With the initial quartet of characters thus confined to the old manse, the search for a solution to their imprisonment is led by Father Kent who teams with sassy medium Harriet (Tiffany Haddish) in what seems an unlikely partnership. Bruce (Danny DeVito), a history professor, is eventually added to the mix based on his knowledge of local lore regarding the macabre.
There’s a generally congenial tone to this production, the comic element of which is far more successful than its by-the-numbers horror ingredients. And any potential offense given by the portrayal of Father Kent is ultimately canceled out by an explanation of his true identity. Suffice it to say, it’s no wonder that his efforts at exorcism fall short.
Still, the positive aspects of this second big-screen version of the Disneyland ride (Rob Minkoff helmed the 2003 Eddie Murphy vehicle “The Haunted Mansion”) have to be balanced against its nonscriptural take on supernatural events. All the more so since this is central to one of the movie’s few serious moments – gamely, if unconvincingly, put over by Stanfield.
Older adolescents may be as apt to shrug this viewpoint off as their elders. But “Haunted Mansion” is not a good fit for smaller, more impressionable kids.
The film contains occult themes, about a dozen mild oaths and brief irreverent humor. The OSV News classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association rating is PG-13 – parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13
John Mulderig is media reviewer for OSV News. Follow him on Twitter @JohnMulderig1.