We Have a Ghost
Directed by Christopher Landon
Written by Christopher Landon, based on the short story by Geoff Manaugh
Starring Anthony Mackie, Jahi Di’Allo Winston and David Harbour
Classification PG; 117 minutes
Streaming on Netflix starting Feb. 24
Someone in Los Gatos, Calif., needs to check on the servers at Netflix HQ as soon as possible – it’s clear that the company’s vaunted algorithm is on the fritz. If you don’t want to venture too deep into the streaming giant’s offices to figure out why, that’s fine: Netflix’s new movie We Have a Ghost offers up a heaping amount of evidence all on its own that things inside the ta-dum factory are broken.
The new film has all the ingredients of a big, fat Netflix hit: a smushing together of disparate genres (family film, comedy, supernatural thriller, horror), three big Netflix-branded stars (Stranger Things breakout David Harbour, Outside the Wire’s Anthony Mackie, Army of the Dead’s Tig Notaro), and a snazzy keyword-friendly title. Most importantly of all, it comes from writer-director Christopher Landon, the filmmaker responsible for some of the sharpest, funniest horror/comedy mash-ups of the past decade, including the Happy Death Day franchise and Freaky. All of which makes We Have a Ghost such a disappointing, undeadly bore.
As if Beetlejuice was made by Tim Burton’s non-union equivalent under the auspices of an especially sleepy Amblin-era Steven Spielberg, We Have a Ghost is a desperate mix of feel-good sentimentality, watered-down surreality, and comedy as transparent in its hackiness as the film’s title spook.
After moving into an especially creepy suburban mansion, the family of serial entrepreneur Frank (Mackie) adjust to their new, cobweb-filled house. Nobody is quite happy to be on their third home in as many years, including sullen teenage son Kevin (Jahi Di’Allo Winston), but soon everyone’s fortunes are changed when they meet Earnest (Harbour), a mute ghost who haunts the attic with such a shoulder-shrugging sense of terror that he’s far less terrifying than, say, Netflix’s threats to curb password-sharing.
After filming Ernest’s supernatural antics and posting the videos to YouTube, Kevin and his family create a social-media sensation – basically Marcel the Shell with Shoes On, but for dummies – while attracting the attention of the CIA’s ghostbusting unit, led by Notaro. If this all sounds like enough material for passably entertaining wackiness, you’re not wrong. And the concept’s blend of light-touch horror and feel-good family dramedy should be enough to propel the thing along. Yet at almost every turn, Landon seems to take the opposite approach that he did with Happy Death Day and Freaky. We Have a Ghost is a safe, expected, painfully off-pace thing that seems to beg for audiences to kill it so that it may finally rest in peace.
There are brief, blink-quick moments of genuine freakiness, including a scene involving a generous-with-her-time Jennifer Coolidge, who plays a dumpster-diving broadcaster who gets a taste of her own medicine. But even that bit is just a half-baked attempt to rip off a similar moment in Bettlejuice involving Catherine O’Hara. And while I take no joy in slagging young actors, someone on-set needed to pump Winston full of Jolt Cola or Red Bull to wake the kid’s especially sleepy performance up. While I didn’t doze off during his line readings, it feels like Landon might very well have.
The good news is that We Have a Ghost won’t kill Harbour’s career – he’s survived far worse projects (remember how someone actually remade Hellboy?) and he doesn’t even have to say a word here as Ernest, which must have made the gig easier. Even Netflix subscribers who haven’t yet been cut off from their accounts by their exes don’t have to suffer too much here – one quick click and you can just queue up Stranger Things.