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Review: We Have a Ghost (Netflix)

February 25, 2023

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

The latest film from writer-director Christopher Landon, who gave us clever horror comedy riffs with Freaky and the Happy Death Day movies, We Have a Ghost mainly serves as the filmmaker’s homage to the Amblin films of the 1980s.

The story of a family who discovers a ghost inhabiting the attic of their new home, Landon’s film draws clear inspiration from E.T. and Poltergeist, without ever quite living up to those sources. This is his most conventional (and certainly most family-friendly) film, but Landon is still a proficient filmmaker who is able to mostly pull off what amounts to an uneven but sincere throwback.

The film centres around Kevin (Jahi Winston), a teenager who has just moved into an old house with his parents Frank (Anthony Mackie) and Melanie (Erica Ash) and older brother Fulton (Niles Fitch), when he stumbles upon a ghost named Ernest (David Harbour) in the attic. The ghost cannot speak and has no recollection of his past, the only clue being the bowling shirt he is wearing with the name Ernest embroidered on the chest.

When a video of Ernest goes viral on the internet, he becomes an overnight sensation on social media, attracting the attention of a local medium (Jennifer Coolidge) who wants in on the phenomenon to boost the ratings of her cable TV program, as well as a paranormal researcher (Tig Notaro) who gets the CIA involved. While dealing with the media firestorm and interference from federal agents, Kevin teams up with his plucky new neighbour and classmate Joy (Isabella Russo), to solve the mystery of who Ernest was and how he died.

One of the biggest problems with We Have a Ghost is that the film never quite settles on a tone, playing as a loose mix of ghost story, supernatural mystery, horror comedy, action movie, and coming-of-age adventure without ever fully committing to being any one thing. It’s never particularly scary (not that it is necessarily trying to be, though there is some peril near the end), and Landon’s screenplay tries to juggle a few too many story strands, which makes it feel overstuffed as a result.

There is certainly a tighter, more focused version of this movie that might have left more of an impact. It runs long at over two hours (including credits), and the pacing feels slightly off in a way that keeps the big reveal and emotional finale from connecting as well as it could have. But there is still a pretty good little movie hiding within, and We Have a Ghost is still an enjoyable mystery to watch unfold, with an emotional centre to it that does feel genuine (even if the payoff is drowned out slightly by everything around it).

There is an earnestness to the film that can’t be denied, and if it feels bloated as a whole, there are still enough elements that work to make it worth a watch. Like Ernest himself, we get the sense that the film simply wants to be liked, and in its best moments, it’s easy to just go along for the ride. Harbour is a big reason for this. He delivers a charming performance as the spectral entity, with the ghost’s inability to speak allowing the actor to show off his physical acting skills and make use of his expressive face. The film’s more touching moments work because of what Harbour brings to the role.

It’s too long and not as strong as it could have been, but We Have a Ghost has enough good moments buried within and enough elements that do work to make it a fairly enjoyable Netflix film for fans of the supernatural, who aren’t necessarily in the mood for something too spooky.

We Have a Ghost is now available to stream exclusively on Netflix.

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