I don’t think there’s a more disappointing young filmmaker today than Christopher Landon. The feature film of his that first brought him to my attention was Happy Death Day, a delightful little romp through Groundhog Day antics. That success lead to serious attention from Blumhouse who started throwing money at him to make movies quickly with decreasing results. First, the uneven and bloated but mildly entertaining sequel Happy Death Day 2U followed by the disappointing genre mashup Freaky. Now, funded by Netflix, we all know that he has absolutely no producer over his shoulder trying to make things better. They just threw him tens of millions of dollars and couldn’t wait for the new content he was going to deliver.
I wasn’t the one who actually put this on. It was a Friday night. The boys had been put to bed, and my wife decided that she wanted to watch this because she thought it looked like a goofy, fun, ghost adventure. I had heard of it in passing, but I didn’t make the Christopher Landon connection just yet. Still, I decided to watch along (she was using the television connected to the PS5 anyway), and I knew within five minutes that I was watching a stinker.
The Presley family moves into a haunted house unbeknownst to them. Headed by the patriarch Frank (Anthony Mackie) and matriarch Melanie (Erica Ash), they have two boys, the elder Fulton (Niles Fitch) and the younger Kevin (Jahi Winston). Kevin is the main character, and his introduction is evidence of the shallow writing that went into everything. He stays behind in the car, listening to his music on his Airpods, while he mopes. About what? I suppose we get some semblance of an explanation about 90 minutes later (he and his dad used to be best friends but aren’t anymore), but it’s nothing more than a sop to characterization than an actual effort to build a character around him.
Then we’re introduced to Ernest (David Harbour), the ghost. He haunts the house, focusing mainly on the attic, and his first intended victim is Kevin who simply laughs at the attempt. Recording the anemic attempt at horror (that he has successfully scared off families for decades is…poorly explained by this), the two begin a friendship, hampered only by the fact that Ernest cannot speak. Why? Rules of this universe of ghosts, I guess, though he can vocalize with moans and even says one name later. I dunno. It’s dumb.
So, what is this movie about? It’s about everything. Frank wants to use the ghost to get famous, using more videos to create a national sensation (this seems to be a similar misconception of the impact of things on social media that M. Night Shyamalan had in Glass). He even manages to bring in a famous medium, Judy Romano (Jennifer Coolidge), that Kevin preps Ernest for by showing him Thirteen Ghosts, leading to a demonstration of Ernest’s haunting ability (that he never had until Kevin showed him, it seems). I really feel like Coolidge is wasted here because none of this is funny, though it’s obviously supposed to be. It’s a really bad balance of comedy and horror.
Along with all of this is Kevin’s desire to help Ernest figure out his past. You see, Ernest is an amnesiac. Why a ghost has problems of memory that are directly connected to human brain chemistry and anatomy, I don’t know. I guess it has something to do with how his death actually happened, but since the recovery of memory ends up hinging on silly, pseudo-Freudian nonsense anyway, it’s not like it would have worked dramatically with a real person anyway. It’s dumb.
Helped by his neighbor and school friend Joy (Isabella Russo) (one of those annoying modern movie creations that’s all antagonistic sass and perfect ability that ends up so unappealing that she can only be the main character’s love interest), Kevin leads a search into Ernest’s past that’s just nonsense. You see, everyone thinks his name is Ernest because he’s wearing a bowling shirt with the name on it. Except…it’s not his name and there’s a bunch of underdeveloped nonsense about his family from fifty years ago that lead to his murder. Since the whole resolution of this plot thread ends with a nearly 80 year old man running around the house like a terminator, it’s just stupid and honestly not played for laughs. Played for laughs, it might have worked a bit.
Oh, and then there’s Tig Notaro as a former CIA agent who had been put in charge of an effort to capture ghosts years before but had been shut down when it had become public and reaction was negative at the waste. She zeroes in on Ernest as her way back into the science instead of selling books no one wants to read. In an already busy movie, she’s just more noise, and it’s made all the worse by the fact that she has a last minute change of heart that can only come about because she’s an idiot.
Seriously, this movie is utter trash. I am convinced that Happy Death Day was only successful because Landon was working with another person’s script. After the massive success of Happy Death Day, though, suddenly he’s allowed writing duties on the film, and we see the overstuffed nature of his writing come through, made all the worse in Freaky and then hitting rock bottom with We Have a Ghost.
There’s a moment late in the film that perfectly encapsulates how this movie is pretty much just total garbage. With the plot resolved, Edgar gets his moment with a long lost relative after he’s regained his memory, and it’s supposed to be a key relationship for him. Except, we’ve never seen this person as an adult in the film, and the emotional catharsis of having Edgar hug someone we’ve never seen him with is just off. It’s completely unearned emotional catharsis, and it falls awfully flat. It reminds me of the terrible emotional journey in another streaming disaster, The Tomorrow War.
This is an overstuffed, confused, and unengaging mess of a film that cannot focus long enough to tell a single story, choosing instead to poorly throw in every ghost-related idea Landon had in one package, all while Netflix was happy to foot the bill because they were getting a bit of content they could label as “comedy/ghost/drama” and throw it into the mess of their platform.
At absolute best, Christopher Landon is a technically competent filmmaker who is in desperate need of either a strong producer or someone else to write his scripts. However, with Netflix throwing money at him, I get the feeling that his technical adeptness in putting together a frame may have more to do with the technical team around him rather than his own talents.
We Have a Ghost is just trash.
Oh, and what did my wife think of it? She was making fun of it ruthlessly for the last half hour.