‘Haunted Mansion’ Review – Faithful Adaptation of the Dark Ride Brings a Heartfelt Look at Grief

Disney’s Haunted Mansion seeks to course correct from its looser adaptation of the famous theme park dark ride in 2003 with a new, much more faithful feature-length adaptation. That’s a tall order considering the original attraction opened in 1969, amassing decades’ worth of lore and history within its hallowed, spooky walls. Yet director Justin Simien and writer Katie Dippold carefully thread 999 happy haunts into a cohesive but densely packed storyline that brings every bit of the grim grinning ghost funhouse antics, mythology, and details you’d expect. But it’s Simien and Dippold’s poignant approach to grief and death that solidifies their Haunted Mansion as worthwhile gateway horror for a new generation.

Once a promising young scientist, Ben (LaKeith Stanfield) now drinks his life away when not leading ghost tours in New Orleans. Ben’s deep in the throes of grief, trapped at a crossroads after his beloved wife’s passing. One day, his empty routine gets interrupted by the unexpected arrival of the eccentric Father Kent (Owen Wilson), who offers a lucrative gig capturing a ghost on camera. The house in question, of course, is a sprawling mansion recently purchased by single mom Gabbie (Rosario Dawson) and her son Travis (Chase W. Dillon). Thanks to a cursed estate and hitchhiking ghosts, Ben quickly finds himself among a motley crew of paranormal experts, including medium Harriet (Tiffany Hadish) and Professor Bruce Davis (Danny DeVito). All must work together to uncover the truth about the haunted mansion.

Haunted Mansion cast gathered around Madame Leota

(L-R): Owen Wilson as Father Kent, Rosario Dawson as Gabbie, LaKeith Stanfield as Ben, Tiffany Haddish as Harriet, and Danny DeVito as Bruce in Disney’s HAUNTED MANSION. Photo courtesy of Disney. © 2023 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

For this new big screen take on the classic ride, production designer Darren Gilford (Spider-Man: No Way HomeStar Wars: Episode VII- The Force Awakens), set decorator Victor J. Zolfo (Alien: Covenant), and property master Steven B. Melton (Godzilla vs. KongKong: Skull Island) painstakingly recreate the New Orleans-set haunted mansion in meticulous detail. Fans of the dark ride will appreciate the stretching room acting as a haven for Travis and his mom when the paranormal activity kicks into overdrive. All the iconic scenes, ghosts, and moments from the dark ride are represented here, even nods you wouldn’t expect.

The detailed recreation of the theme park attraction comes with all the familiar markings of a conventional family-friendly movie, complete with hijinks and humor aimed at a younger audience. Luckily, with a cast that includes Danny DeVito, most of the comedy lands. What sets Haunted Mansion apart from the standard fare is how Simien and Dippold acknowledge that kids are far more resilient and emotionally savvy than given credit for and how death is as much a celebration of life as it is heartbreaking, isolating, and scary.

Haunted Mansion cast, review

(L-R): Tiffany Haddish as Harriet, Rosario Dawson as Gabbie, LaKeith Stanfield as Ben, and Danny DeVito as Bruce in Disney’s live-action HAUNTED MANSION. Photo by Jalen Marlowe. © 2023 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Nestled at the heart of irreverent family fun are two powerhouse performances in LaKeith Stanfield and Chase W. Dillon. Gabbie (Rosario Dawson) desperately seeks to shield Travis from, well, everything. Mostly, though, she tries to protect her young son from conversations about death inherent in their strange supernatural predicament, unaware that Travis takes on a tremendous burden in guarding his mother from his loneliness. Dillon may be the sole minor among the lead cast, but his old-soul personality often marks him as one of the most mature. It makes Travis’ character arc more affecting and nuanced. It runs parallel in many ways to Ben, an apathetic type unable to move past his wife’s passing. The bond between Ben and Travis anchors the spooky whimsy, providing necessary depth. Stanfield’s portrayal, including a devastating monologue, highlights the actor’s natural charisma and leading man screen presence. 

In an ensemble cast packed with talent, Haunted Mansion belongs to Stanfield and Dillon. Less effective is the central villain. In the commitment to accurately bring the ride’s vision to life, Jared Leto disappears so entirely into his performance of the infamous Hatbox Ghost that you’d be forgiven for assuming that this character was merely another impressive show of VFX and nothing more. While Dippold’s script takes care to build out his backstory, the Hatbox Ghost is an oversimplified conventional baddie made even more glaring by his more complex adversaries.

Hatbox Ghost in Haunted Mansion

Hatbox Ghost (voiced by Jared Leto) in Disney’s HAUNTED MANSION. Photo courtesy of Disney. © 2023 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

It’s a byproduct of decades of ride history packed into a single film. Haunted Mansion may take great care covering all bases to appease fans, but that also makes it overstuffed. While each among the cast, including its impressively rendered ghosts, gets a moment to shine before the tidy conclusion, not every plot thread feels complete or as satisfying. Not every joke lands, either. Even still, the brisk, nonstop pace, impressive production value, and an authentic look at the various facets of grief reflected in Dillon and Stanfield elevate Haunted Mansion into worthwhile gateway horror. Simien and Dippold joyfully recreate the feeling of hopping on a Doom Buggy, whisking audiences on a nonstop tour of supernatural whimsy, macabre humor, and heart.

Haunted Mansion releases in theaters on July 28, 2023.

3.5 out of 5

The post ‘Haunted Mansion’ Review – Faithful Adaptation of the Dark Ride Brings a Heartfelt Look at Grief appeared first on Bloody Disgusting!.