The paranormal family adventure film, We Have A Ghost, is now streaming, but should you give it a watch?.
Based on the short story “Ernest” by Geoff Manaugh, We Have A Ghost is a mash-up of a ghost story mixed with elements of mystery, adventure, and family friendly comedy.
Written and directed by Freaky & Happy Death Day creator Christopher Landon, the film centers around the Presley family that has recently bought a new home on the cheap that may have a reason for its bargain basement price. In checking out the attic of their house, the youngest son Kevin (Jahi Winston) soon discovers a moaning, flailing ghost in the form of Ernest (Stranger Things David Harbour). Completely unfazed by his presence, Kevin forms a relationship with Ernest and tries to figure out why he may be stuck in this house instead of crossing over to the other side.
While Kevin’s intentions with Ernest may be more pure of heart, his father Frank (The Avengers Anthony Mackie) & his brother Fulton (This Is Us star Niles Fitch) seem to have different motives for their paranormal roommate. After Kevin films his first interaction with Ernest and sends it to his Dad, his father decides to post these interactions online to try to become internet sensations. This draws all forms of attention to the Presleys and Ernest; from devoted fans who camp out on the family’s front lawn to more sinister plans from members of the CIA who wish to capture Ernest for their own interests. Toss in interactions with psychic mediums & people from Ernest’s past and you get one overstuffed, messy “shouldn’t be 2 hours long” film from a writer/director who has done MUCH better work.
We have seen all kinds of ghost story films over the years. Most of them tend to have a territorial & terrifying presence that looks to scare the home’s latest inhabitants away to keep their home to themselves for eternity. Rarely, but often enough, you get a friendlier entity that might gently ask you to leave or maybe even develop a relationship with its new roomies.
We Have A Ghost follows more of the latter as the family embraces (and exploits) Ernest even though he cannot talk, cannot remember anything from his past, tries to scare them away in the early encounters, and has no obvious connection to them at all.
Casper is a popular example of a friendly ghost of course. He is exceptionally friendly in spite of his terrible ghost uncles and he is the ghost of a young boy so it makes sense when he falls for and befriends the young daughter of an afterlife therapist.
This film struck me as being closer in, pardon the phrasing, “spirit” with the relationship between Lydia and recently deceased couple Adam & Barbara in Tim Burton’s dark comedy classic Beetlejuice, except nowhere near the quality. Lydia, a goth-like teenager who admits to being “strange and usual” initially encounters Adam & Barbara in a similar more unamused and undaunted, but quickly becomes intrigued with them and befriends them as she has read their handbook for the recently deceased and finds their situation fascinating even if they don’t want her family to stick around.
Her relationship with them seems completely plausible due to Lydia’s quirky personality, fascination with death, and isolation in a new home with parents that don’t understand her and no friends in sight.
As for this film, the Kevin and Ernest relationship makes very little sense from the start; mostly because we don’t know much about either of them and the little we do know doesn’t match up in any way to continue on with the mystery of Ernest’s past and his inability to cross over to the other side. Sure, Kevin is a sad teenager who moves into a new place, but he also seems to have a solid relationship with his mother & older brother and instantly makes friends with the teen girl next door, Joy (Isabella Russo). He has no paranormal fascinations and instead has a music nerd vibe that quickly goes away as the film goes on. He is also not very personable and would seem reluctant to befriend anyone especially a ghost that doesn’t appear more human like Adam & Barbara from Beetlejuice. As for Ernest, he can’t express himself very well and cannot utter anything more than a moan or groan.
He is older and doesn’t appear to have any commonalities that would entice Kevin in any way. He doesn’t appear to be a father figure when his own father seems to be a scheming failure most of the time, so he doesn’t fill a need there. Furthermore, it would make more sense for him to tell his family about Ernest and try to convince them to not live in this new place that he referred to as a “dump” than actually try to help Ernest figure out why he is stuck. This is the foundation for the film and it is extremely flawed.
While this vital character chemistry falls flat, I think the biggest problem with the film is the excessive bloat and almost 2-hour runtime. Several scenes seem extraneous and certain B plots don’t seem necessary.
Unfortunately for these normally funny character actors, I got nothing from the “Paranormal psychologist-turned CIA Agent-turned disgrace-turned author who gets a shot at redemption” character arc from hilarious stand-up comedian Tig Notaro. Why do we care about the CIA and their defunct ghost studies program? Why do we care about her motives? We have to devote that time to Ernest because we don’t know anything about him. We already have plenty of distractions with the social media element and the eventual villain that presents late in the story. This whole thing seemed very redundant and superfluous. We also have Jennifer Coolidge as a Medium who seems to not have the ability nor the want to try to conjure Ernest at their home even though she brought her show to them.
These several minutes long scenes do nothing but try to pad the laughs in a movie that had enough from the road adventures to come and could easily have been cut from the film. I’m not saying the film would be entirely fixed by trimming off 20 minutes, but it would fly by much faster and become much more focused if it did.
The positives from this movie come mostly in the redemption arc for Ernest and the arrival of the real villain in this story, albeit far too late for a truly solid impact. Once we get Ernest out of the house, the film seems to move much better and deliver some more enjoyable and interesting material.
The car chase with a playful Ernest shifting between cop cars is some of the most fun in the whole movie, and the mystery element of a potentially disastrous discovery about Ernest’s past leading to a satisfying end to right the wrongs that was thrust upon at the time of his death is the most intriguing piece of the whole story. It makes me wonder how much of this script is from the short story and how much was added to beef up the page count and add some laughs.
If this film has any success, it would likely be due to the full commitment of David Harbour to the character of Ernest. Playing a mute ghost who has to create sympathy and humor with only looks and pratfalls sounds daunting, but Harbour pulls it off as good as you could hope if you’re Christopher Landon. Harbour capitalizes on the fatherly charm he exudes as Hopper in Stranger Things and parlays that energy into tricking us into thinking he had to be a good father even though we had no evidence for far too long in this story.
Overall, We Have A Ghost commits the ultimate cinematic sin of trying way too hard and adding way too many characters & subplots that ultimately stray away from the heart of its story. Wasted efforts from a star-studded cast couldn’t save the film from itself and could not entertain as much as I had hoped.
What We Have a Ghost on Netflix If You Like
- Ghost Dad
- Hocus Pocus
MVP of We Have a Ghost
Isabella Russo as Joy Yoshino.
While not having the flashiest of resumes next to her MCU & “Stranger Things” alums, Isabella Russo really seemed to pop when given the chance in this film.
Playing the role of quirky friend, love interest, and brilliant sidekick, Isabella mustered enough presence and range to prove that she can hang or even outpace her leads. For a side character, she seemed to have just as much, if not more, depth than Kevin did in a more important role.
Play, Pause or Stop We Have a Ghost
The notable stars involved are not always front and center and the gifted writer/director Christopher Landon seems off his game in this lackluster and often baffling family romp.