We Have a Ghost is Hauntingly Effective, Lighthearted and Wholesome [Review]

We Have a Ghost, the most recent Netflix original family adventure genre movie from writer/director Christopher Landon, hits a lot of the same notes as its ‘friendly ghost’ movie predecessors, but is wholly unique and could potentially catch on as this generation’s Casper.

Ghost movies vary from genuinely scary to family friendly. Ghosts are inherently frightening and have mostly been utilized as terror-inducing conduits in horror movies. But We Have a Ghost is the latest in a surprisingly scarce, but decades-spanning subgenre of ‘friendly ghost’ movies. Friendly ghosts have been portrayed in all sorts of ways, in all different types of movies, from the cartoonish-looking ghosts like Casper, to ghosts that look like actual human beings; examples include old Hollywood classics from Abbott and Costello, as well as The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, to new Hollywood classics like in The Sixth Sense and Ghost. The look of the ghost in We Have a Ghost more so resembles the supernatural look of the ghosts in The Frighteners, where they are human-like, but mostly transparent, and clearly not human.

We Have a Ghost is based on the short story Ernest, written by Geoff Manaugh, and published in Vice Magazine. The short story was adapted for the screen and directed by Christopher Landon. Landon’s work has varied tonally across the board, from the incredibly dark and intense nature of his work in the Paranormal Activity franchise, to the comedic tone of his latest works, Freaky and Happy Death Day. We Have a Ghost makes for an incredibly interesting pivot for Landon, and is totally different from anything in his filmography…

Containing absolutely zero horror elements, other than the framework of the story, which is centered around a ghost haunting a house, We Have a Ghost is essentially a family dramedy, and an incredibly effective one at that. Starring Anthony Mackie as Frank Presley, a father of two, and husband of Melanie, played by Erica Ash, the story centers around the Presley family, who unwittingly move into a haunted house. Frank and Melanie are skeptical when buying the house, as the house is incredibly cheap, especially for the neighborhood that it is in. Which in today’s market, should be a red flag the size of the moon. But in typical realtor fashion, their agent does not disclose that all the specifics. So the Presley family moves in, and almost immediately the youngest Presley, Kevin, played perfectly by Jahi Di’Allo Winston, encounters the ghost in the attic.

We meet Ernest the Ghost, played by David Harbour, and immediately from the jump, Ernest is obviously a non-malignant presence, like Casper, and becomes fast friends with Kevin. Harbour and Winston’s chemistry is outstanding, Winston is perfect as the sweet and innocent Kevin, and Harbour is funny but also extremely sincere as Ernest. Ernest is a sweet but confused ghost, and Harbour’s physical performance, to go with his masterful use of facial expressions to communicate, is perfect for the role…

I was skeptical as to whether I would like this movie early on. But We Have a Ghost quickly won me over, and I found myself enjoying the action, mystery, and heartfelt dramatic sequences all the way through. Anthony Mackie is quite simply a fantastic actor, and perfect as the flawed but loving character, evolving so much throughout the movie and was convincing every step of the way. As the story plays out, the chemistry between all the actors is palpable, and really adds to the efficacy of the film. Jennifer Coolidge even appears in a brief, but true to personality role, and in the post White Lotus world, will definitely provide some Tanya-esque comic relief for fans of that series. Without spoiling anything, it is worth noting that Tig Notaro’s performance is actually very effective as well, another character that evolves throughout the story in a convincing and believable way…

We Have a Ghost

The story of We Have a Ghost hits a lot of the same notes as movies like Casper, where the central mystery lies with a ghost trying to figure out what happened to them in life, and how they died, with the help of the main character. We Have a Ghost plays out as a heartwarming story of a young kid who is intent on helping his ghost friend, Ernest, while everyone else tries to take advantage of Ernest for financial and/or personal gain. But the persistence of Kevin and Ernest proceeds to win over most of the other characters (especially the audience). As the mystery of Ernest unfolds, even with the plot twists and turns, it is very hard to not get emotional at the conclusion of each story arc…

On the technical side, We Have a Ghost is exceptionally well done. Being both visually appealing and also having sharp dialogue that never felt dumb, which for a movie like this, is very impressive. Some of the monologues are emotional, and combining that with the solid performances, makes for great dramatic scenes. Anthony Mackie’s monologue toward the end with Winston’s character, Kevin, is well written by Landon, and was heart-wrenchingly performed by Mackie. All of the scenes with Harbour’s Ernest are well conceived and well executed. Landon utilizes Ernest the Ghost in all of the best ways, making sure that there are plenty of scenes where Ernest gets to flex his ghostly abilities in the funniest of ways…

Overall, I believe We Have a Ghost will appeal to a wide variety of demographics, not just families with young kids, but everyone. I found this movie to be both entertaining and incredibly sincere. Good performances across the board, and high-level craftsmanship across all of the filmmaking aspects. We Have a Ghost is a solid entry in the ‘friendly ghost’ subgenre and should stand the test of time as one of the classics from this subgenre, a big win for the cast and crew, and Netflix, but especially the audience. For f*ck. sake, just sit back and enjoy this movie for what it is…

We Have a Ghost is streaming exclusively on Netflix as of February 24th.

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Wicked Rating: 7.5/10

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