Review: ‘We Have a Ghost’ shows plenty of ambition, but ends up overstaying its welcome
Having proven his worth in turning low budget and high concept genre-benders into critical and commercial success stories, writer and director Christopher Landon was due his shot at not just a much bigger production, but an expansion of his filmmaking horizons. Netflix’s We Have a Ghost is certainly that, but the supernatural family comedy doesn’t have the means to justify its excessive running time.
Happy Death Day, its sequel, and Freaky showed that Landon was a dab hand when it came to merging offbeat humor and jarring bursts of violence with the familiar tropes and trappings of horror, but there’s only so often you can repeat the same tricks without becoming bored. Actively seeking a fresh challenge, a blockbuster-sized fantasy for the market-leading streaming service with a budget rumored to be hovering around the $75 million mark is certainly that, but We Have a Ghost won’t linger long in the memory.
While there’s no shortage of ambition, a spread of excellent performances, a couple of standout sequences, and one or two genuinely emotional moments peppered throughout, the film is indicative of the problems that come from expanding a thrifty short story into a feature-length adventure, as well as the indulgences that regularly creep in when creative minds are given the sweeping freedom afforded by making something that’s never going to see the inside of a theater.
The core concept is a doozy, though, with the Presley family getting a lot more than they bargained for when they move into a dilapidated old house. Jahi Di’Allo Winston’s Kevin is our entry point into the story; the teenager feels increasingly isolated as he tries to live his life without being placed under scrutiny by his father, with Anthony Mackie doing his charismatic best to elevate a character who comes across as a bit of a self-obsessed asshole on the surface.
Heading into the attic, Kevin discovers that his new home is haunted, but in the most innocent and wholesome fashion possible. David Harbour’s Ernest can’t speak, and resolutely fails to frighten the freshly-installed inhabitant, leading to a combination of road trip movie, odd couple comedy, family drama, and supernatural chase story all awkwardly rolled into one as they retrace steps dating back decades to uncover his origins.
All Kevin has to go on to try and unravel the mystery of Ernest’s death and state of purgatory is the fact he’s got a bowling shirt with his name on it, forcing him to team up with Isabella Russo’s next door neighbor Joy to try and get to the bottom of the problem. Along the way, father Frank and Niles Fitch’s brother Fulton try their best to make a quick fortune by uploading of footage of their spectral apparition on the internet in the hopes of becoming viral sensations.
We’ve not even mentioned Jennifer Coolidge’s scene-stealing medium, Tig Notaro as an author who gets tied into the overarching mystery, the CIA determining that the paranormal is a discovery worth trying to monopolize and weaponize, a third act twist that pivots into unexpected genre territory, a dizzying car chase, reflections on how the discovery of ghosts as being 100 percent real would be treated in the social media age, or any of the other various moving parts. In short, there’s a lot going on, but not enough of it lands or resonates.
At 127 minutes, there’s a high chance you’ll find yourself growing weary of We Have a Ghost long before the credits come up, even if there’s enough visual polish and eye-catching technical wizardry on display to underline that Landon has a bright future playing in a much bigger sandbox than the lo-fi horror one that built his reputation. Unfortunately, a nice-looking movie with solid turns from virtually every member of the ensemble is never enough to overcompensate for a story that’s unwieldy, overstuffed, and half-baked all at once.
The Paranormal Activity veteran’s filmography has been defined largely by razor-sharp and jet-black wit, a joyous subversive streak, and a bristling propulsive energy. None of that is present in his latest, and while he’s been vocal in admitting it fulfilled his long-held desire to make something inspired by the spirit of the great Amblin classics of the past, it feels frustratingly safe and watered-down as a result.
We Have a Ghost aims high by trying to cover as many bases as possible, but it ultimately ends up shooting itself in the foot as a result. Several of the plot developments come out of nowhere, while others are signposted from a mile off, all while the sentimentality and schmaltz threatens to reach sickeningly cloying levels. There’s a lot of good to be found, but there was definitely a vastly superior version lurking just beneath the surface were some of the excess fat to be trimmed, and the focus narrowed.
'We Have a Ghost' shows plenty of ambition as writer and director Christopher Landon broadens his horizons, but it never feels anything more than a series of disparate parts failing to come together as a satisfying whole.