David Harbour Haunts in Horror-Comedy Misfire

Feb 25, 2023

Home Movie Reviews ‘We Have a Ghost’ Review: David Harbour Haunts the Internet in Horror-Comedy Misfire

Despite a strong cast giving their all to make a promising premise work, ‘We Have a Ghost’ becomes doomed by its own lack of creativity.

Image via Netflix

There is a spirit that haunts the Netflix family comedy horror We Have a Ghost, but it isn’t the pantomiming poltergeist referred to in its title. Rather, it is the past films of writer-director Christopher Landon that feel like they are hovering over the top of his latest. Happy Death Day, Happy Death Day 2U, and Freaky were all darker horror romps that, while imperfect, felt like they were playing around with some rather creative components. All were aware of their genre in a way that allowed for lightly referential gags that were both funny and gruesome, while also working as films that stood on their own. There are moments where that same spirit seems to take hold of We Have a Ghost, but it is smothered in a far more standard story. It isn’t ever quite as audacious or unhinged as it needs to be, instead existing in a strangely safe in-between limbo where it never makes the extra leap it needs to. Though slightly better than other similar offerings on the streamer, it still lacks the madcap energy or genre panache that we’ve come to see in Landon’s more recent films. This is the greatest shame of it all as it isn’t without some fun, but it feels like it is perpetually being held back from really letting loose.

This all begins with the Presley family who moves into a new home in Chicago. An opening oner shows something supernatural lurking inside it that drove out the prior inhabitants. Unaware of this, the scheming patriarch Frank (Anthony Mackie) and his more skeptical wife Melanie (Erica Ash) move their family into this paranormal abode. It is there that Kevin (Jahi Di’Allo Winston) discovers the largely silent ghost Ernest (David Harbour) hiding out in the attic. Initially surprised, he whips out his phone and films the lonely spirit attempting to scare him. Kevin’s brother Fulton (Niles Fitch) then discovers this video followed shortly by Frank who wants to turn Ernest into a content machine that will bring them fame and fortune.

The only person that proves willing to help Kevin figure out what to do with Ernest is his new friend and classmate Joy (Isabella Russo) who feels like she is not given as much material to work with despite bringing a great deal of snark to the story. Though it draws from the rather simple yet more pointed short story “Ernest” by Geoff Manaugh by similarly looking at the way the broader world soon reacts to the ghost, the film also stretches the narrative into its own silly and sentimental directions over its more than two-hour runtime. Unfortunately, it is a work that feels like it was more a “one for them” project than one that has much passion to it on its own. One hopes that it will hopefully lead to Landon getting the chance to return to making more unrestrained films that are allowed to more fully embrace a darker absurdity.

Image via Netflix

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With all that being said, no one ever feels like they are phoning it in as can often be the case with such films. In addition to the main cast, there are other fun characters that pop up throughout. There is a brief sequence with the always great Jennifer Coolidge playing a chaotic Internet medium who comes to the Presley home in order to make Ernest into a segment for her show though gets more than she bargained for. Then there is a terrific Tig Notaro almost sarcastically playing a paranormal scientist of sorts who also has ties to the CIA that could spell trouble for the main characters. The film doesn’t initially take too much of this seriously until it suddenly does, making the humor start to feel strained by the faux sentimentality that courses through everything. Where the emotional beats of Landon’s previous films felt more natural and were usually in service of the silliness, We Have a Ghost feels painfully forced like the more unimaginative horror comedies that have come before it.

There is plenty going on, with a mystery, a car chase, and other shenanigans, that may keep younger viewers entertained. However, for those hoping for something more in line with Landon’s prior work, this will likely prove to be disappointing as it becomes constrained by convention as opposed to flaunting it. Even when something sounds like it would be wild on paper, like when Harbour as a ghost will launch himself through walls or into speeding cars, it carries only the smallest spark of fun. When these moments become increasingly fleeting, even seeming to be truncated in how it is haphazardly cut together, it is all but extinguished.

Image via Netflix

It all makes for an odd experiment in competing visions as the source material, while not without humor, was much more focused on deeper themes than the spectacle of slapstick that this one is. Don’t let it be mistaken, it will always be classic to see an invisible being manipulating matter and throwing things around. There is just a general absence of creativity in how these sequences are actually constructed. If anything, once the characters hit the road about midway through, it starts to feel like the film is running out of ideas about what they can do.

The main issue is that its best assets all feel drawn from far more successful horror comedies of the past. Be it Beetlejuice, which is briefly referenced at one point, or lesser-known works like the spectacular 2019 film Extra Ordinary, there is so much that has done this infinitely better. There is a general dearth of wit and charm to this dull experience that marks its downfall when it takes a turn for the saccharine. Though it won’t be among the worst horror comedies to come out this year, it is also one that feels fated to fade from memory as soon as you finish it. No matter how many scattered chuckles you get from some of its talented comedic performances, there will be just as many moments that elicit cringe over its depiction of social media or leave a sense of emptiness in its hollow conclusion. It is hard to ever be too mad at it, but it is a work that proves to be a disappointing slog all the same. Neither wacky enough to be a winning comedy nor clever enough to be a horror sendup, We Have a Ghost is a film that leaves little to grasp onto as it all just ends up slipping through your fingers.

Rating: C

We Have a Ghost is available to stream on Netflix starting February 24.

Disclaimer: This story is auto-aggregated by a computer program and has not been created or edited by filmibee.
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