Christopher Landon makes wonderfully quirky horror films that defy the typical cynicism of the genre nowadays. He avoids the pretension of “elevated horror,” by expressing contagious joy through his filmmaking in movies like “Happy Death Day,” “Happy Death Day 2U,” and “Freaky.” He writes brilliantly insightful scripts that are at their best when he is allowed to be goofy in a way that just makes the viewer smile. Sadly, his writing isn’t as sharp as his directing, which can sometimes result in his films feeling less than fully realized. But even when they don’t hit all the marks, Landon’s films always have an infectious joy to them that make them hard to resist.Christopher Landon makes wonderfully quirky horror films that defy the typical cynicism of the genre nowadays. He avoids the pretension of ‘elevated horror,’ by expressing contagious joy through his filmmaking in movies like ‘Happy Death Day,’ “Happy Death Day 2U,” and ‘Freaky.’ He writes brilliantly insightful scripts that are at their best when he is allowed to be goofy in a way that just makes the viewer smile. Unfortunately, his writing isn’t as sharp as his directing, which can
Based on a short story called Ernest by Geoff Manaugh, “We Have a Ghost” opens with the Presley family moving to a fixer-upper in Chicago. Father Frank (Anthony Mackie) is struggling to make ends meet and maintain a healthy relationship with his increasingly-distant son Kevin (Jahi Di’Allo Winston, so good in “Charm City Kings” and on “Everything Sucks!”). Almost immediately after their arrival, Kevin is exploring the attic when he encounters a trapped soul named Ernest (David Harbour, giving an eerie performance). Ernest can’t talk but has been scaring away inhabitants since the ’70s when he tragically died.
Imagine if there were ghosts all over TikTok and YouTube. What would happen?Landon doesn’t do nearly enough with this rich concept and just has people screaming outside the Presley home, including a guy dressed like Jesus. It’s interesting to watch Frank try to use Ernest’s existence as a cash infusion, becoming a cultural agent of sorts. He even brings in a local medium for an encounter with Ernest, a scene that allows for one of the film’s more impressive effects and potential memes from a Jennifer Coolidge cameo. But there’s not enough done with the idea of what proof of the afterlife might look like onscreen.
Instead, “We Have a Ghost” shifts too much focus to a paranormal scientist named Dr. Leslie Monroe (Tig Notaro) and her CIA boss Arnold Schipley (Steve Coulter). Landon’s film becomes something of a chase/road movie in its midsection as Ernest, Kevin, and their scene-stealing neighbor Joy (Isabella Russo) try to escape the armed guards and get to the bottom of why this poor guy hasn’t fully moved to the next plane of existence. Of course, “We Have a Ghost” becomes a bit of a whodunit too as Ernest learns about what really happened to him, including the identity of his killer.
Harbour is effective in a performance that could have been all exaggerated mugging to compensate for zero dialogue, and Winston still feels like a future star; he’s so confident and natural at a young age. There’s enough to like here just in the two of them to keep teens and their parents from checking social media too often while it plays, but it lacks that thrust that would make them put the phones down for good. There’s just a lack of urgency, especially in the final act, which repeats ideas and then ends more than once. This movie needs to hum like “Freaky” and “Happy Death Day,” which we experienced firsthand.
Even though “We Have a Ghost” sags at times, it never completely disappears into the dull background of Netflix originals.
On Netflix now.