Ghosts terrorizing a helpless mother and son. Ghost hunters who despair of supernatural power themselves. And a winding, scary castle as the setting. The film adaptation of the Disney park attraction “Haunted Mansion” combines all the ingredients of the classic haunted house cinema, but there is also a good portion of humor GHOST VILLA a comedy fun that only touches on genre conventions in passing.
OT: Haunted Mansion (USA 2023)
That’s what it’s about
Shortly after Gabbie (Rosario Dawson) and her son Travis (Chase Dillon) move into their new home, they notice that something is wrong in the house. The venerable villa is home to numerous ghosts of the past who enjoy terrorizing newcomers. In desperation, they turn to the local priest Kent (Owen Wilson), but he is overwhelmed and passes responsibility directly to Ben (LaKeith Stanfield), who no longer takes his job as a paranormal tourist guide seriously. Last but not least, the self-proclaimed medium Harriet (Tiffany Haddish) completes the group, who together tries to find out the secret Haunted Mansion to rise and not just to restore their own peace of mind…
The opening week around July 20, 2023 currently has a good chance of going down in film history. Not (only) because of the films that celebrated their release here. But also due to a marketing coup that is unparalleled in this decade of cinema. A film adaptation of the billion-dollar toy brand Barbie, starring superstars Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling and directed by independent darling Greta Gerwig, was already a sure bet that covered all cinema-loving target groups. And “Oppenheimer”, the new work by Christopher Nolan, which is starting at the same time, markets itself due to the participation of the exceptional director. Through #Barbenheimer, a meme that rather penetratingly draws attention to the fact that at the same time (and not, as is usual with such a magnitude usual, divided into several opening weeks) when two such popular films come into the cinemas, the PR machine went into overdrive – and almost on its own. One can be sure: if social networking had been similarly ubiquitous and stable 15 years ago, it would have been The parallel launch of “The Dark Knight” and “Mamma Mia” became something like #MammaKnight or #TheDarkMia. Staging a similar marketing stunt around the theatrical release of “Ghost Villa” is now tantamount to an impossibility. Simply determining the target group is difficult and the legacy of the film is a heavy one. It’s not just in the case of #Barbenheimer and #MammaKnight that history repeats itself…
Travis (Chase Dillon) moves into a haunted house with his mother Gabbie (Rosario Dawson).
The horror house comedy “Ghost Villa”, which is currently being released in cinemas worldwide, is actually already part of film history. A film adaptation of the Disneyland attraction was released in 2003 Haunted Mansion (In Disneyland Paris it bears the title, with a slightly modified content concept Phantom Manor). “The Haunted Mansion” once boasted Eddie Murphy as the lead actor. Nevertheless, the press feedback turned out to be rather sobering, with critics accusing “The Haunted Villa” of, among other things, a lack of passion and too much routine. Disneyland insiders and lovers of the attraction, on the other hand, still see the film adaptation as a wasted opportunity to follow the passionately designed background story of the attraction Haunted Mansion to do justice. And when you consider that Guillermo del Toro, of all people, has already expressed interest in a screen adaptation of the… Theme park rides stated, even those who are not familiar with it can imagine how many possibilities there may be in it as a film source. What “The Haunted Mansion” director Rob Minkoff and Gullermo del Toro failed to do still couldn’t succeed, “Dear White People” director Justin Simien now manages to at least achieve a satisfactory level with his new interpretation of “Ghost Villa”. Nevertheless, the target group for his film turns out to be extremely narrow. You have to be a hardcore fan of the Disney Parks, or at least the attraction Haunted Mansion respectively Phantom Manor to understand its perfect suitability as a template for a horror film. Simien has many visual details of the Rides Congenially incorporated into the film. Anyone who can discover these through prior knowledge will also reveal their love for them. Everything around it moves into the second row.
Unfortunately, it is precisely these trappings that would have to be just as convincing as what will only be accessible to a fraction of the audience. If “Ghost Villa” sits between the stools of a shallow horror film and a sometimes rather silly buddy comedy, it would almost take a miracle for the film to not become a box office poison. Especially since “Ghost Villa” doesn’t have a single, popular Hollywood star Lead can score. The cast list for a project like this reads impressively: in supporting roles, among others Scream Queen Jamie Lee Curtis (“Halloween”)Danny DeVito (“Dumbo”) and Jared Leto (“Blade Runner 2049”) on. LaKeith Stanfield stars in the (expanded) lead role (“Knives Out”)Rosario Dawson (“Zombieland 2: Twice is better”)Tiffany Haddish (“Night School”) and Owen Wilson (“Marry Me”) in Eddie Murphy’s footsteps. Each and every one of them is undoubtedly at least a well-known name in Hollywood. But Curtis, DeVito, Wilson and Dawson are unlikely to be a motivation to attract the generation to the cinemas for whom “Haunted Mansion” could be something like an entry-level horror film. LaKeith Stanfield and Tiffany Haddish can be considered “hip”, but they also lack the icon status of Eddie Murphy. And Jared Leto is as Voice Actor Hard to see anyway. Conclusion: Although such a line-up is impressive, it is unlikely to meet the demands of its advertising value.
Jamie Lee Curtis is stylish as Madame Leota.
The film itself is the logical consequence of this. The cast’s joy in playing and the loving whimsy of the individual characters help “Ghost Villa” to have a consistently likeable basic structure with a high pace. Nevertheless, no one, neither a star himself nor a character he embodies, could be said to have shaped the film in his own way. “Ghost Mansion” is just because of it “a group of people fights together against ghosts”-Building an ensemble piece. Ultimately, however, each person cooks their own soup. Sometimes these complement each other harmoniously. For example, when Owen Wilson’s dryly humorous priest is juxtaposed with the eccentric silliness of Tiffany Haddish. Rosario Dawson and her on-screen son Chase Dillon (“The Harder They Fall”) are responsible for the emotional grounding of the event. And LaKeith Stanfield, whose role as the fate-stricken hardcore skeptic is most likely to be the real one MainFigure is to be understood, acts as a link between the two tonalities. Sometimes the cast gives the impression of being piecemeal. FDanny DeVito’s maverick historian has little added value to offer, while Jamie Lee Curtis as Madame Leota and Jared Leto as Hat Box Ghost (basically the leader of the ghosts and the main antagonist of the film) fill their parts solidly, but their appearances are not at all designed to shape “Ghost Villa” in terms of personnel. Nevertheless, none of them can be identified as a major disruptive factor. Even superfluous characters are given enough successful individual scenes so that they don’t end up being remembered negatively.
“The cast’s joy in playing and the loving whimsy of the individual characters help ‘Ghost Villa’ to have a thoroughly likeable basic structure.”
In the case of “Ghost Villa” itself, this is most likely to apply to the CGI-filled, hysterical finale. Although the Haunted Mansion-Attraction, especially in its US version, is already a show of numerous ghosts, the finale in a cemetery with its countless, computer-animated scary figures turns out to be overloaded, visually unattractive in scene arrangement and lighting and is much larger than everything before it serious. While the main focus of “Ghost Villa” was previously the comedy, here the focus is suddenly on the horror aspect. Just like Justin Simien and his screenwriter Katie Dippolt (“Ghostbusters”) Suddenly it occurred to me that the “ghosts” associated with horror must still exist somehow in “Ghost Villa”. Actually, it doesn’t have to be that way. Haunted Mansion primarily provides a tragic rather than a classically scary basis, which is treated more humorously in the US attraction and a melancholic treatment in the European one. Especially from the US perspective, “Ghost Villa” does exactly what the original promises. Even if that doesn’t mean the film can be pigeonholed. That’s what makes it so difficult to recommend the film to a specific target group. With the exception of one or two suggested jump scares and the finale, “Ghost Mansion” is not scary. The comedy part may dominate, but it is always thwarted by the tragic backstory surrounding the ghosts for a series of pure gags. And the drama surrounding Ben’s fate, whose split relationship with ghosts and his resulting lack of courage to live stems from the early death of his fiancée, only reveals profound emotions in one scene. “Ghost Villa” is a mix of genres that doesn’t completely collapse the story, but seems far too overambitious for a project like this. As a result, he cannot develop his full potential.
Father Kent (Owen Wilson), Gabbie (Rosario Dawson) and Harriet (Tiffany Haddish) ask historian Bruce (Danny DeVito) for help.
What the story doesn’t succeed, at least everyone involved in the equipment and set building managed to do. Right from the start, “Haunted Mansion” is riddled with references to the Disneyland attraction. This is how the entrance area of the… Haunted Mansion to the set piece of your own action scene. Simien takes up decorative elements such as busts, the interior of the rooms, even the experience of driving through it all in a car. Even the design of the ghosts, CGI or not, is reminiscent of that one Haunted Mansion-Scary characters inspired. This attention to detail continues on the acoustic level. Kris Bowers (“Green Book”) used well-known sounds from the attraction for his score and the sound design even ensures exactly that slightly reverberant sound during Madame Leota’s appearance that a Walt Disney World or Disneyland visitor would hear from the woman’s head locked in a glass ball knows. Such small references can be discovered on every corner – but you undoubtedly have to get to know them first. This makes “Ghost Villa” the closest thing to a hidden object picture Haunted Mansion– respectively Phantom Manor-Fans who, thanks to their prior knowledge, can get through the story, which is sometimes a little complicated. In addition, they are presented with a barely definable, but fundamentally likeable mishmash of genres – but sells that to the paying audience…
Conclusion: “Haunted Mansion” works best as a bridge between two visits to Disneyland and hidden object for fans of the theme park attraction on which the film is based. The surroundings are also pleasant, but no aspect feels fully developed. Mostly funny, a bit tragic, with a scary factor that is intentional but not really effective. It’s best to let yourself be carried away by the setting and the ensemble’s joy in playing. Otherwise you’ll soon be fighting a losing battle against the ghosts of the haunted villa…
“Ghost Villa” can be seen in USA cinemas from July 27th.