We Have a Ghost review – Netflix’s supernatural caper needs more spirit | Comedies

THEOne of the hardest losses on the big screen during the rapid shuttering and slow reopening of cinemas during the pandemic was the lack of a large audience for the horror body-swapping comedy Freaky, a receptive audience that never had the chance to truly appreciate a significant crowd. Writer-director Christopher Landon’s wildly effective and surprisingly sensitive mash-up of Friday the 13th and Freaky Friday came together in multiplexes when audiences were still distant, and thus remains cruelly overlooked.

Like Landon’s previous work – writing the scripts for Disturbia and Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse and directing Happy Death Days 1 and 2 – it featured a buoyancy of tone that ensured fun even when scary things were happening. It makes sense that he would then put it into the world of family films, so the Netflix caper We Have a Ghost may be aimed at a younger demographic, but retains a similar speed and spirit. But as perfect as this matchup looks on paper, the move also comes at a cost, a loss of perhaps something more special. Landon has always been transparent about his influences – Happy Death Day recalling Groundhog Day, Disturbia recalling Rear Window (to the extent that the Hitchcock estate tried to sue) – but here, he’s too busy trying to create the atmosphere. of a certain type of film. focus on making something of his own.

This type of film could be best defined by the Amblin logo, which reminds most of us of a certain combination of adventure, comedy and often mild moments from something more frightening, films like ET, The Goonies, Batteries Not Included and Arachnophobia (film Landon is currently being remade). His story takes a family and moves them into a suspiciously cheap new house only to discover it is haunted by a gentle ghost, played by David Harbour. “We have a ghost!” then he exclaims the words that mean something different to each member of the family. For father Frank (Anthony Mackie), it’s an opportunity to make money, for mother Melanie (Survivor’s Remorse alum Erica Ash) it’s a source of frustration, for eldest son Fulton (Niles Fitch) it’s a way to get girls, and for younger son. Kevin (Jahi Winston) is a way to feel less alone.

It’s Kevin who takes the lead, cultivates a friendship, and takes it upon himself to try and help the ghost figure out why he died and how he might find some kind of freedom.

In Landon’s simpler, sweeter opening act, the film works best, a charming mash-up of Casper, Beetlejuice and the aforementioned Amblin classics, gently lulling us into familiar motions. But the film quickly sinks into some over-written nonsense involving a fancy TV medium (Jennifer Coolidge, given very little and doing very little with it), a ghost hunter-turned-author (Tig Notaro), and a grand CIA scheme. The bigger it all gets, the more we feel pushed away, and it begins to recall the terrible disaster of Happy Death Day 2U, which squandered the simple joys of the original by needlessly expanding the canvas. It’s not as awful as it ended up being, but it’s just as disappointing, an initial spark carelessly smothered.

There’s some mildly interesting family tension between Mackie’s opportunistic father and his frustrated son Winston (a speech about not being able to hide one’s faults when a child is old enough to see them is effective) but Landon struggles to bring emotional weight in the central friendship. Movie rules dictate that Harbor’s ghost can’t speak, which makes it difficult for him to do much with the character, and as his story unfolds, it also depends on some version of a tired trope (it would be a spoiler to mention, but I’ve written about this before) and a twist involving a character we barely know. The energy that fueled Landon’s earlier suburban mystery Disturbia is sadly absent, despite slipping into Hitchcock thriller territory.

Landon’s initial attempts to reminisce about the movies many of us grew up with start to turn sour as it heads toward its finale because we’re not left with enough of the new to sit with the old (a big emotional goodbye, aimed at tears jerky, more likely to make viewers check watches). It’s not that his heart isn’t in the right place, it’s just that his heart has been transplanted from somewhere else.

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