One of the hardest losses on the big screen during the rapid closures and slow reopenings of theaters during the pandemic was the lack of a large audience for the horror comedy Freaky, a body-swapping comedy that never got a chance to really please audiences. a substantial crowd. . Writer-director Christopher Landon’s incredibly effective and surprisingly sensitive mash-up of Friday the 13th and Wacky Friday was bundled into multiplexes when audiences were still far away, and as such remains grimly underrated.
Like Landon’s previous work – writing scripts for Disturbia and Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse and directing Happy Death Days 1 and 2 – it showed a liveliness of tone that guaranteed fun even when scary things were happening. It makes sense that he would bet on the world of family movies, and so his Netflix caper, We Have a Ghost, may be aimed at a younger demographic, but it retains a similar speed and spirit. But as perfect as this matchup might seem on paper, the change also came at a cost, perhaps the loss of something more distinctive. Landon has always been transparent about his influences – Happy Death Day remembering Groundhog Day, Disturbia remembering Rear Window (as far as the Hitchcock estate tried to process) – but here, he’s too busy trying to evoke the vibe of a certain kind of music. film to focus on creating something of your own.
This type of film would best be defined by the Amblin logo, something that reminds most of us of a specific combination of adventure, comedy and often mild moments of something scarier, films like ET, The Goonies, Batteries Not Included and Arachnophobia (a film Landon is currently set to remake). Her story takes a family and moves them into a suspiciously cheap new house, only to discover it’s haunted by a gentle ghost, played by David Harbour. “We have a ghost!” is then exclaimed with the words that mean something different to each member of the family. For father Frank (Anthony Mackie) it’s an opportunity to earn money, for mother Melanie (Survivor’s Remorse student Erica Ash) it’s a source of frustration, for eldest son Fulton (Niles Fitch) it’s a way to make it. girls and youngest son Kevin (Jahi Winston) is a way to feel less alone.
It’s Kevin who takes the lead, nurturing a friendship and taking it upon himself to try and help the ghost figure out why he died and how he can find some kind of freedom.
On Landon’s simpler, sweeter opening act, the film works best, a charming mix of Casper, Beetlejuice and the aforementioned Amblin classics, gently taking us through familiar motions. But the movie quickly gets bogged down in some over-the-top nonsense involving a gaudy TV medium (Jennifer Coolidge, given too little and doing too little with it), a ghost hunter turned author (Tig Notaro), and a CIA master plan of large dimensions. The bigger everything gets, the more we feel cut off and it starts to remind us of the disjointed disaster of Happy Death Day 2U, which squandered the simple joys of the original by unnecessarily stretching the screen. It’s not as awful as it turned out to be, but it’s just as frustrating, an initial spark carelessly smothered.
There’s a mildly interesting family tension at play between Mackie’s opportunistic father and Winston’s disappointed son (a speech about being unable to hide one’s faults when a child grows old enough to see them is effective), but Landon struggles to bring emotional weight to the core friendship. . The film’s rules dictate that Harbor’s ghost is unable to speak, which makes it difficult for him to do all that with the character, and as his backstory is revealed, it’s articulated both in a version of a tired trope (it would be a spoiler to mention, but I’ve written about this before) and a twist involving a character we barely know. The energy that propelled Landon’s earlier suburban mystery, Disturbia, is woefully absent, despite a lurch into Hitchcockian thriller territory.
Landon’s initial attempts to recall the movies many of us grew up with start to turn sour as he nears the end, because we don’t have enough of the new to sit with the old (one big emotional goodbye, meant to rip the tears, is more likely to make viewers check their watches). It’s not that his heart isn’t in the right place, it’s just that his heart was transplanted from somewhere else.