Quick synopsis: The Presley family (no relation) move into a house which turns out to be haunted. Together, the family and the ghost (“Ernest”) work out the mystery of how Ernest died, as well as how to use the haunting to make money money money money in this haunting (see what I did there?) comedy horror starring Anthony Mackie and David Harbour.
I had heard bad things about We Have A Ghost (or WHAG, pronounced Warg). On the one hand, it’s written and directed by Christopher Landon, who gave us the wonderful Freaky, and the fun-as-fuck Happy Death Day films. But on the other hand, it was also written and directed by Christopher Landon, who gave us the sixth Paranormal Activity film, as well as the unfunny juvenile Scouts Guide To The Zombie Apocalypse, so it could go either way. Early reviews made me think this would be terrible. But it’s actually fun. I’m not saying this will end up being my favourite film of the year, but it doesn’t deserve the low scores it has on Metacritic. Although one of the user reviews just describes it as “this movie crosses the line. It’s white shaming bullsh*t and if it was the other way around it would have been cancelled instantly. I can’t believe people let this slide. Seems that all this cancel culture is a one-way thing. Into the trash it goes” which translated means “This film has black people in it”. There is a line about “not doing the typical white people horror movie thing and staying”. But that’s because almost every notable haunted house movie (Poltergeist etc) feature almost entirely white casts. If you see that one line and think “this movie hates white people” then that reveals more about you than it does the movie. Primarily that you’re a racist douchbag.
With the exception of Mackie and Harbour the cast are mostly unknowns, the main cast anyway. The supporting cast includes esteemed names like famous MILF Jennifer Coolidge, Chris D’Elia replacement Tig Notaro, and professional vitamin seller Dr Phil, or to give him his full medical name: Phil, just Phil. I think at least one of the main cast could end up being a big deal, but not sure who. Isabella Russo shines in the brief moments she’s in, very reminiscent of Edge Of Seventeen-Era Hailee Steinfeld in terms of energy. Niles Fitch has been on the edge of success lately with his role in This Is Us, but that’s yet to find much of an audience outside of the US. With the right role, he could break through. I do have to point out how good David Harbour is in this though, especially considering he has no dialogue yet there are times when you don’t really notice that. If there’s any justice though, this will be the breakout role for Jahi Winston (who doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page yet).
It didn’t get off to a good start. The opening scene in a horror/comedy needs to do one (ideally both) of the following. This does neither. There are no real scares until about 6 minutes in and no jokes until around that time either. And no jokes that made me laugh until 7 minutes in when someone responded to an order by playing The Imperial March on guitar. It’s a really cute moment which endears the audience to the character. That helped warm me to the movie. I assumed the film would be focused on the ghost’s friendship with Anthony Mackie’s character, instead the main spectral relationship is with the son. This was the right choice and provides multiple sweet moments. It’s a very touching story that is genuinely moving at times. It also provides a weirdly accurate portrayal of what would probably happen in reality if a ghost was discovered and evidence posted online. By which I mean, TikTok users tell everyone the creepy sex fantasies they’ve been having about the ghost.
But WHAG brings the (family-friendly) scares when it needs to too. The scene where Ernest haunts the television production crew is genuinely unsettling and wonderful. You can argue it’s never as scary as it could be, but I get the feeling it’s not aiming for “terrifying you until you poo yourself”, but is going for more “spooky”. It’s the kind of horror movie you watch with your kids after get back from trick or treating.
Not to say that the parents wouldn’t get anything from this. They’ll appreciate the family relationship. This is marketed as a horror comedy, but at its core, it’s like the Fast and The Furious movies; it’s all about family (and if you think I didn’t say that like it was said in Shazam! Fury Of The Gods, you’d actually be right because I didn’t say it out loud, I just typed it). The father/son relationship is really the driving force behind the whole plot. It influences decisions which directly cause the narrative to flow like it does. It also causes one of the best lines:
“When your kids are little it’s easy to be a parent. They don’t see who you actually are, they just see the good stuff, what you want them to see. But eventually, as they grow up parts of yourself that you don’t like become harder and harder to hide”
That says so much about not only that character, but his relationship with his children. It’s so perfectly done that I loved it.
Whilst that’s perfect, the film itself is not a perfect film by any means, it feels incredibly neutered at times like it was originally supposed to be more adult and they cut it down so would appeal to more people. There’s also a ghosthunter/military subplot that achieves nothing except waste both time and the comedic talents of Tig Notaro. It’s a part of the plot that just gets in the way of what we want to see. If you got rid of it it would create a few plot holes, but they’re minimal-sized holes that you could close up with a few carefully placed pieces of narrative needlework.
This is a fun netflix film. It’s hampered slightly by the fact that a lot of what it’s done has been done before, and done better, by big films (ET, Ghostbusters etc). It’s not going to be your favourite film of the year, but it is entertaining. It’s the cinematic equivalent of a really good bacon sandwich. Won’t change the world, but will fill a hole (sex joke) and make you happy for a short moment. It also has a genuine tearjerker of an ending.