"We Have a Ghost" stars David Harbour, Jahi Di'Allo Winston, Anthony Mackie, Tig Notaro, and Jennifer Coolidge. Released on Netflix on February 24, 2023, the film has a family encountering a ghost in their new home.
The film was written and directed by Christopher Landon, who also directed films such as "Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones", "Happy Death Day", and "Freaky". It is based on the 2017 short story "Ernest" by Geoff Manaugh. It sucks when you move into a new home and realize it's haunted by ghosts. That's the last thing you want to deal with aside from the house's torn-down appearance. Fortunately, this house has a spirit who's not as scary or threatening as it appears, and I'm not talking about Casper. This latest film from Netflix sees writer/director Christopher Landon returning to the horror comedy game to provide a family-friendly take on the genre compared to his previous efforts. I suppose anything's better than waiting endlessly for an update on Landon's third "Happy Death Day" film. But is it another watchable addition to Netflix's list of original content, or does it make us want to move to a different house? Let's find out.
The story centers on Kevin Presley (Winston), a detached, music-obsessed teen. Kevin, his brother Fulton (Niles Fitch), and their parents, Frank (Mackie) and Melanie (Erica Ash), recently moved into a dusty old house to seek a fresh start. One day, Kevin discovers they're not the only ones living in the house when he finds a ghost in the attic. The spirit is named Ernest (Harbour), a trapped soul with a mysterious past. The family's discovery resulted in Frank cashing in on Ernest by turning him into a social media phenomenon. However, Frank's video caught the attention of the paranormal scientist Dr. Leslie Monroe (Notaro), who teams up with the CIA to capture Ernest. Now the prime target of the agency, Kevin, along with his neighbor Joy Yoshino (Isabella Russo), attempts to uncover the mysteries surrounding Ernest's past and bring him the closure he needs.
At first glance, the film has the essential elements that one may expect from its 80s-inspired plot. You have the characters moving into a new place and encountering a creature that helps improve their lives. Oh, and there's also the government seeking to capture or kill that creature, in case it wasn't obvious enough. It's a tried-and-true Amblin-esque narrative that usually delivers the heart and humor of watching a child (or teenager, in this case) embark on a life-changing journey with an unusual comrade. Unsurprisingly, "We Have a Ghost" delivers on that formula, for better or worse. On the one hand, it's a straightforward and mildly fun take on the concept inspired by the likes of "E.T." with a dash of "Beetlejuice" thrown in there. But, on the other hand, it doesn't do much to this intriguing idea to justify its spiritual presence.
Regarding horror comedies, Christopher Landon recently has a clear idea of what makes them frighteningly fun, both as a writer and director. He may not break any new ground in the genre, but he compensates for it by delivering refreshing and entertaining takes on the concepts. The primary examples are the "Happy Death Day" films and "Freaky", which revitalized the slasher genre and were fun to watch due to his well-crafted direction and screenplay. Those movies were also why the filmmaker found his groove after delivering stinkers like "The Marked Ones" and "Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse". Fortunately, "We Have a Ghost" has Landon in good form again, with him delivering another mixture of horror and comedy, even though it's more light-hearted than scary. The scenes that don't involve the spooky stuff also make him a suitable filmmaker. Whether it's the action or the heartfelt moments, Landon knows how to make his vision as spirited as David Harbour's ghostly character.
My only issue with his direction was its uneven tonal shift in the third act. Compared to the light-hearted scenes before it, that sequence felt like I was watching a completely different movie. One minute I was watching a charmingly fun comedy about a teen befriending a ghost. The next, it quickly became a thriller with supernatural elements in it. It doesn't hinder my enjoyment, but I can admit that it looks a bit jarring.
Unfortunately, despite his confidence behind the camera, Landon's screenplay is something that's left to be desired. Relying heavily on its formulaic plot points and by-the-numbers characters, the script lacks the uniqueness that made Landon's recent efforts like "Freaky" refreshingly compelling. Although it makes up for it with its messages and heart, the script squanders its premise with a safe and often corny reflection on family connections and social media influencers. The movie also suffered from the bloated runtime, which ran at a surprising two hours and seven minutes. While I wouldn't say I was bored of it, it's another movie showing that too much of a simple concept can be problematic.
Besides Landon's direction, the cast is also the reason for the film's entertaining appeal, with the actors delivering a healthy amount of talent in their performances. The most significant selling point is David Harbour, who once again brought his A-game regarding his role as Ernest. Following his roles in projects like "Stranger Things", "Black Widow", and even "Violent Night", it's unsurprising that Harbour is one of the most hard-working and talented actors of this generation, not to mention full of charisma. However, his role in "We Have a Ghost" sees him portraying a non-talkative character compared to his other ones, resorting to him relying on his charm to represent Ernest's emotions through body language. The result is, unsurprisingly, another solid win for the actor.
The movie also sees Jahi Winston appearing front and center after appearing in supporting roles in films like "Proud Mary" and "Queen & Slim". Winston's performance as Kevin isn't something I would call "award-worthy", but his admirable presence proves he's ready for more roles like this. Erica Ash and Anthony Mackie also did well with their performances as Melanie and Frank, respectively. In addition, Tig Notaro as Leslie Monroe made me happy that she's getting more movie roles after impressing me with her recent stand-up special, "Drawn". Finally, Jennifer Coolidge continues to be a delight, thanks to her role as Judy Romano. Sure, Coolidge is only in one scene, but it hardly matters when that one sequence is one of the film's best parts regarding the comedy.
Overall, "We Have a Ghost" is spiritually charming in its concept and tone, but its lack of fresh ideas makes its presence far from welcoming. Regarding its talented cast, heartfelt moments, and Landon's mixture of humor and supernatural horror, the film is another enjoyable distraction for those looking to stream something at home. However, it's also one of the director's weakest efforts in the genre due to its formulaic plot, middling screenplay, and lengthy runtime. Thankfully, it's not as bad as "The Marked Ones", so I got to give credit where it's due. If you're looking for another refreshing hit from Christopher Landon, you might not find it in this haunted house. But if you're in the right mood for some harmless laughs and fun spooks, you might get some enjoyment out of this ghostly encounter.