Writer/director Christopher Landon has impressed me several times before, from Disturbia to Paranormal Activity to Freaky and many movies in between. His newest, a Netflix family comedy, sadly lacks the ferocious bite and wit of other entries in Landon’s filmography. A close comparison in terms of a tone it’s attempting would probably be Tim Burton’s timeless Beetlejuice—the problem here is that We Have a Ghost doesn’t come anywhere near touching the brilliance of that classic. Instead, the film ends up emerging a pale imitation of a much greater movie. We Have a Ghost attempts genuine emotion, and ends up with a generic Casper-style adventure, complete with tired tropes about going viral.
The Presley family is used to constantly “reinventing” themselves, thanks in large part to the patriarch (Anthony Mackie) seeking a constant change in scenery. The youngest music-obsessed son, Kevin (Jahi Di’Allo Winston), long past his breaking point, doesn’t even get his hopes up when he and his family go to check out a new house one would politely call a fixer upper. The place was listed low enough to entrap Frank and his agreeable wife (Erica Ash), and before one can say “ghost,” the family has already staked their claim. Kevin is the first to see a spooky spectre that has already scared off previous buyers. He laughs in the face of the somber, mysterious Ernest (David Harbour), who cannot communicate other than a few moans and groans. Kevin’s self-obsessed brother, Fulton (Niles Fitch), would rather swipe endlessly through Tinder anyway, so to him the prospect that their new home could very well be haunted is instantly more exciting than their change in surroundings.
Around town, they call the place “the house of death,” which seems odd considering their realtor disclosed none of this. Kevin, who recorded his first encounter with Ernest, catches the attention of his fame hungry father. At one point, Frank literally says that he wants his family to be “the black Kardashians.” The next natural step is, of course, posting Ernest to YouTube, where the ghost all but instantly goes viral. TikTok challenges are born, memes are created, and the overnight success balloons beyond control. As his fame rises to preposterous proportions, Kevin works tirelessly to try to resolve the whys of Ernest still being around as a ghost, and how best he can help his newfound silent-type pal. Jennifer Coolidge appears briefly in a scene-stealing role as Judy Romano, the West Bay Medium, but outside of her, there is nary a laugh to be found.
We Have a Ghost spends an awful long time establishing the family dynamic here, but I am not sure that the Presleys are ever all that interesting as a family unit. Each character is given surface-level traits, with Kevin being the only one properly fleshed out enough to really count. Ernest’s backstory is so schmaltzy it may as well have been a Disney Channel Original Movie. The worst of all is a predictable subplot with the C.I.A. out to nab Ernest, creating an additional conflict that just feels there to pad the runtime. Christopher Landon is much better than this, as is the entire cast of mostly talented actors. Perhaps it may be best for We Have A Ghost to simply disappear.
Tune in to Netflix on Friday, February 24th, to discover what truly happens when We Have A Ghost.