Netflix’s spooky new comedy WE HAVE A GHOST tells the story of a family of new homeowners who quickly discover their habitation is haunted by the restless spirit of a speechless specter. After an initial first encounter, he’s uploaded to social media and before you can say, “Boo!”, we have a viral sensation on our hands. The setup is humorous, albeit simple. We’ve seen this story many a time and while the film attempts to come at it from a new, modern angle, the lengthy runtime and uneven tone makes it a bit of a bore. With a screenplay and direction from Christopher Landon (FREAKY, HAPPY DEATH DAY), one expects a certain level of wit and momentum, but unfortunately the film offers only a handful of laughs and attempts to achieve too much.
Our titular ghost, Ernest, played by David Harbour, is sweet and tender. While he’s able to make ghostly moans and growls, he’s unable to speak, and though Harbour’s emotive facial expressions are effective, his complete lack of a voice begins to lose its schtick after a while with no payoff. Jahi Di’Allo Winston (QUEEN & SLIM) plays Kevin, the teenage inhabitant of the house who discovers the ghost. He’s sensitive and artistic and portrays an outcast reminiscent of some 80’s teenybopper flick very well. Anthony Mackie (THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER) plays his father with fortune-seeking blinders so set on making a viral internet splash, it’s almost cartoonish how unaware he is of his son’s plight. Niles Fitch and Erica Ash as brother and mother Fulton and Melanie are unfortunately sidelined by too much else going on. Comedian Tig Notaro plays Dr. Leslie Monroe, a CIA agent with aspirations of studying the paranormal, with a grounded and straight-forward approach that would have been funny and effective in a more focused movie. A cameo by Jennifer Coolidge adds some much-needed comedy but unfortunately her moment comes and goes before it’s even barely begun. (She’s the real ghost of the movie.) Neighbor girl Joy (Isabella Russo), while spunky and humorous, is plagued by tired racial clichés.
The film’s biggest downfall is its runtime. I’m no stickler for the modern outrage over films exceeding 90 minutes, but if a movie is longer than 2 hours it needs to be worth it and unfortunately this one far overstays its welcome. A movie that’s so in tune with the age of TikTok and short-form, flash entertainment should have caught on that today’s attention spans just aren’t what they used to be. If compacted, revised, and given more focus, WE HAVE A GHOST could have been a fun, spooky, intro-to-horror movie for children and young adults a la 1995’s CASPER. Unfortunately, the friendly ghost in this movie is lacking charm and is plagued by too much foul language to be appropriate for young children yet isn’t quite mature enough to grasp adult audiences.
With all the references to internet virality and social media, one wonders who exactly this movie is for. As Dr. Monroe mentions at a point in the film, “Social media makes me nauseous.” Unfortunately, there’s such a focus on it, it alienates older audience members but doesn’t offer enough family-friendly theming to appeal to youngsters.
WE HAVE A GHOST is streaming on NETFLIX.