Christopher Landon proved with Happy Death Day, Happy Death 2 U, and Freaky that he knows how to craft a killer slasher. He has an eye for the way young people talk to each other and interact with the world, never making fun of them or ridiculing their generation. Instead, he shapes contemporary horror characters that change the way we think about genre. And Landon continues that trend, but in the world of haunted houses and fraught familial relationships, with his new Netflix original film, We Have A Ghost.
Kevin Presley (Jahi Di’Allo Winston), his parents Frank and Melanie (Anthony Mackie and Erica Ash, respectively), and his older brother Fulton (Niles Fitch) have moved into what seems to be yet another house thanks to Frank’s mistakes. The house is a certified fixer-upper, but it’s gorgeous and comes as at an almost suspiciously good price. Frank promises this is a fresh start, but it seems this is a promise Kevin has heard before. Quickly, Kevin discovers Ernest (David Harbour), the ghost that haunts their new home.
But from here, Landon takes We Have A Ghost to epic levels that feel reminiscent of early Spielberg films. This is a haunted house movie placed on a massive scope so unlike the typical format of the subgenre. This isn’t the Warrens dealing with a demon contained in one house. No, it’s a ghost on the run from the CIA. It’s like E.T.: The Extraterrestrial but with guitar-playing teenagers looking for a father figure anywhere they can.
Landon expands the scope of the film quickly as Ernest goes viral as definitive proof that ghosts exist. TikTokers do the “Ernest Challenge” which is essentially running straight into a wall. Crowds gather outside the Presley home looking for a chance to meet Ernest. Here, Landon takes a quick stroll back to his found footage roots a la Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones as TikTok videos flash on the screen. These small moments make the world of We Have A Ghost feel so vast and up the stakes at hand. So when scientist Dr. Leslie Monroe (Tig Notaro) teams up with the CIA to reinstate an old paranormal research project, it feels like the natural progression of things.
A world this big can be hard to contain, and clocking in at over two hours, We Have A Ghost has a lot of stories it’s trying to resolve. And, for the most part, that runtime is utilized to its full potential, building that epic story to make its final act all the more thrilling. There are moments when trying to juggle multiple backstories feels overwhelming in tracking who is who and who is doing what. But, ultimately, Landon focuses on the central relationships between both Kevin and Ernest and Kevin and Frank. These central relationships are what makes the film truly click.
Winston as Kevin is perfection, a quiet yet assured teenager who’s just looking for someone to listen to him. Ernest, a silent yet sweet Harbour, becomes a surrogate father figure who loves guitar and rock music and is also looking for companionship (and closure) in death. They’re two loners who find each other in a cobweb-filled attic. Frank, on the other hand, is bombastic and excitable, always jumping into things head first and moving fast. Mackie plays Frank with pure chaos energy that you feel is well-intentioned but falls flat; think the human manifestation of a manic episode. Kevin is the parent and Winston nails the role of a fed-up kid with a child-like parent.
Besides Harbour playing a role with zero dialogue, he leans into non-verbal cues and exaggerated facial expressions with ease. With a combover to end all combovers and a killer bowling shirt, this is a Harbour we’ve never seen before. Gone is the hulking physical presence he’s known for, replaced with the closest thing to an everyman we’ll probably see from him. It’s refreshing to see a new type of role for Harbour, especially coming hot off the sexy Santa Claus gone bad in Violent Night. He just wants us to know he has the range, and we never doubted him.
Overall, We Have A Ghost is just plain fun. Landon knows how to craft a horror film that’s bright and entertaining, never too dark but never afraid to be scary. With his latest film, Landon demonstrates his ability to create and maintain a massive world while cultivating the intimate, beating heart at its center. While We Have A Ghost never fully goes into typical horror territory save for one gnarly face-melting effect, it captures the essence of 1980s coming-of-age horror and places it within a contemporary context without falling into nostalgia trappings. With We Have A Ghost, Landon further cements himself as a contemporary horror master who knows how to craft smart and entertaining stories that appeal to all ages.
With We Have A Ghost, Landon further cements himself as a contemporary horror master who knows how to craft smart and entertaining stories that appeal to all ages.
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