This spooky family movie pulls at the heartstrings instead of the funny bone
We Have a Ghost is the latest movie from Happy Death Day and Freaky director Christopher Landon but unlike those adult-oriented horror offerings, this one is perfectly suited to family audiences. Parents will likely enjoy it as much as their kids, largely thanks to the fine cast, which includes David Harbour as Ernest, a ghost with a mysterious past, Tig Notaro as a CIA paranormal investigator, and Jennifer Coolidge as a wacky TV medium who doesn’t actually believe in the afterlife.
At the beginning of Landon’s new movie, we see a family flee their home and it’s clear that they have witnessed something terrifying inside. The scene is then set for a Poltergeist-like horror movie when the Presley family (no relation to the legendary pop icon) move into the suspiciously cheap house, unaware of its history and the terrible terror that could be residing within. But instead of finding a supernatural entity that has the power to pull them into the great beyond from the other side of their television screen, they meet Ernest, a not-so-scary ghost that becomes their friend rather than their enemy.
Anthony Mackie stars as Frank, the head of the family, a down-on-his-luck guy who is struggling to make ends meet. He moves into the haunted house with his wife Melanie (Erica Ash) and their two teenage kids, Kevin (Jahi Di’Allo Winston) and Fulton (Niles Fitch). It’s Kevin who first meets Ernest while exploring the house’s attic, but rather than being scared of this spectral figure who menacingly waves his hands around, he is amused, despite the ghost’s efforts to scare him away.
The young teen befriends this lonely spirit but not before taking a video of Ernest with his smartphone. This video quickly goes viral and Ernest becomes something of a celebrity.
After Kevin’s ghostly encounter, Frank and the rest of the family are introduced to Ernest. They aren’t able to connect with him in the same way that Kevin does – dad’s attempt to summon the ghost by speaking the name Beetlejuice yields no results – but they do recognize the spirit’s monetary value when they discover he has become a social media sensation.
It’s Frank in particular that gets dollar signs in his eyes as he thinks the ghost is key to improving his family’s fortunes. But when he makes sure word about the friendly spirit spreads, spooks of a very different kind (the CIA) learn of Ernest’s existence and descend upon Frank’s home in force. They aren’t the only ones with an interest in the ghost as various media companies also push their way into the Presley family’s life, as do self-proclaimed fans of the ghostly phenomenon who congregate outside the house hoping to get a glimpse of their latest obsession.
What follows is a road movie of sorts as Kevin and Ernest dodge the madness at home by going on a trip together. They embark on a quest to find out who Ernest is and to discover how he died – the wordless ghost has little knowledge of his past existence – and in the process, they incur the wrath of somebody who has ties to the person Ernest used to be before his life was brought to an untimely end.
We Have a Ghost is an enjoyable movie but despite being billed as a comedy, laughs are in short supply. This isn’t to say the movie won’t make you smile but it’s warmly amusing rather than hilarious. That being said, a scene involving Jennifer Coolidge’s fake medium, Judy Romano, is laugh-out-loud funny, largely due to the comical interplay between her and Harbour, and a sequence involving an Ernest-inspired TikTok challenge where teens try to ‘run through a wall like Ernest’ also causes a giggle.
But elsewhere, the film is more interested in the relationship between Kevin and Ernest than it is in creating laughs from its comedy potential. This is never really a problem as the bond between the two is actually quite endearing. These characters form the heart of the movie and there are obvious parallels between their relationship and the relationship Kevin has with his father. Ernest is unable to speak but despite this, he is able to form a bond with Kevin. The parallel is that Frank is unable to bond with his son because of a communication breakdown between them.
The fact that Kevin can communicate better with a wordless ghost than his own dad speaks volumes about the issues within their relationship. Thankfully, the movie doesn’t get bogged down in the fractured father-and-son dynamic, so you don’t have to worry about this being more of a domestic drama than a ghostly comedy. This is still a lighthearted movie but as it touches upon themes that will be significant to some, it is a little deeper than you might expect.
Mercifully, the movie isn’t as special effects heavy as others of its type. There is one scene when Ernest transforms into various monstrosities to scare the living daylights out of Judy Romano, the sceptical medium, but for the most part, David Harbour is given free rein to showcase his talents as a comedic performer without the burden of prosthetic work or CGI that could have overshadowed his performance. He’s fun to watch, especially during moments when Ernest tries to appear scary, and a sequel where he is given a further opportunity to flesh out the character of Ernest (not literally – he is playing an ethereal being, after all) would be welcomed.
We Have a Ghost is a good movie overall but at over 2 hours in length, it occasionally threatens to outstay its welcome. The long-running time allows for various plot threads to unfold but a simpler story that focused more on Kevin and Ernest’s bond may have allowed for a tighter, more interesting movie.
Their scenes together have the strongest writing but the same cannot be said of the sequences involving the CIA, which are predictable and thinly plotted. The movie doesn’t fall apart as a consequence but it does lose a lot of its charm when it veers away from the central relationship and like me, you might be left wishing the CIA plot had been written out of the story altogether.
If you’re looking for a fun family movie, We Have a Ghost might just fit the bill. It’s not in the same league as Ghostbusters or Beetlejuice but it’s still an enjoyable watch and far better than certain other kid-friendly ghost movies, such as 2003’s The Haunted Mansion which (fittingly) was dead on arrival. The movie is never as comical as it could have been but thanks to the spirited performances of the talented cast and the warm-hearted story, this still manages to engage and entertain.
Read More: We Have a Ghost Ending Explained
Feel free to check out more of our movie reviews here!
Verdict - 7/10