We Have a Ghost opens with a fixed long shot of a large white house, the huge moon looming behind. The camera keeps its distance as people scream, run out of the house, and drive away. A timelapse shows a year has passed by the time a new family pulls up. Led by the estate agent (Faith Ford), the camera finally moves forward as we follow father Frank (Anthony Mackie), mother Melanie (Erica Ash), and their two teenage sons, Fulton (Niles Fitch) and Kevin (Jahi Di’Allo Winston), inside the house. This is a great cold open as writer-director Christopher Landon effectively and efficiently lets us know that the house is haunted without wasting time and jumping into the story.
When Kevin discovers Ernest (David Harbour), a ghost living in the attic, he immediately pulls out his phone and starts recording — but when Ernest attempts to scare him with ghostly groans, Kevin starts laughing. “My personal life is, like, a thousand times scarier than this,” he explains. Although Ernest doesn’t remember who he is or what happened to him, he and Kevin immediately hit it off. When Frank discovers the ghost, he posts a video online, hoping to capitalize on fame and fortune. Still, when it goes viral, it catches the attention of menacing parapsychologist Dr. Leslie Monroe (Tig Notaro) and CIA Deputy Director Arnold Schipley (Steve Coulter).
After Happy Death Day, Happy Death Day 2U, and Freaky, Landon shows us that he doesn’t want to get pigeonholed as a slasher director, so he masterfully pivoted to We Have a Ghost, a supernatural family comedy that is more family drama than horror. It subverts familiar haunted house tropes and pays homage to 80s family sci-fi-horror movies — think E.T., Ghostbusters, and Beetlejuice. There are some fun special effects, too, including the usual ghost tricks when Ernest puts on a show and some interesting commentary on what the government would do if they captured a ghost, similar to the conspiracy theories surrounding aliens and Area 51. However, Landon’s script is based on Geoff Manaugh’s short story of the same name, which he successfully fleshes out and expands upon, despite some differences.
What’s surprising about We Have a Ghost is that Ernest doesn’t speak. Harbour is pressured to create emotional depth via a mostly nonverbal character, which he manages to pull off while donning an old bowling shirt and a combover. His presence is felt strongly in the film, which is made all the better by his heartwarming connection to Winston’s Kevin. Further supporting characters include Jennifer Coolidge’s Judy Romano, a medium full of shit who gets more than she bargained for in one sequence. Coolidge’s Judy and Notaro’s Leslie play to their respective actors’ strengths while standing out as archetypes. Lastly, Kevin’s classmate Joy (Isabella Russo) possesses some tech skills and helps Kevin uncover Ernest’s true identity. There’s good dialogue between the family, which quickly highlights more about their characters and their dynamics. Despite this, it often feels like we don’t get to see much of Melanie or Fulton at the expense of other characters and subplots.
We Have a Ghost explores what modern technology does to a family, the chase of fame and how it disintegrates the family unit. Frank is so caught up in capitalizing on Ernest, thinking about book deals, merchandising, and asking Kevin if he wants to be a Black Kim Kardashian that it takes him much longer than it should to recognize and consider Kevin and Ernest’s feelings. The horror genre is always masterful at reflecting the current social climate back at us and heightening our fears within. In this case, the fear isn’t the existence of ghosts but rather the impact of social media and our fifteen minutes of fame. Christopher Landon’s We Have a Ghost contains a lot of heart and humour and is perfect for family viewing.
We Have a Ghost is currently streaming on Netflix.
by Toni Stanger
Toni Stanger is a film and screenwriting graduate with a passion for cats, horror films and middle-aged actresses. Her favourite films include Gone Girl, Heathers, Scream and Excision. You can find her on Twitter and Letterboxd.
Categories: Anything and Everything, Films, Reviews
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