We Have a Ghost–Christopher Landon’s next comedy horror movie arrives on Netflix

Review by C.J. Bunce

Christopher Landon has become a reliable writer-director of comedy spook flicks.  The son of actor Michael Landon, he has delivered so many films now he’s almost created his own sub-genre.  Although his early works didn’t have the comedy component–several of the Paranormal Activity movies–Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, Happy Death Day, Happy Death Day 2U, and Freaky all blend both genres into something lighthearted and fun.  It’s no surprise many are produced through Blumhouse, which has made a solid shift from more frightening fare.  Landon’s next flick is We Have a Ghost, which features Netflix regulars David Harbour, Anthony Mackie, and Tig Notaro.  It’s a haunted house story with young actor Jahi Winston in the lead role.  It’s now streaming on Netflix.

Landon takes a short story and spins it into a tale for the younger set, the crowd that watches YouTube and TikTok over television and understands social media influencers over anybody else.  The Happy Death Day movies were college fare, but the lead, Jahi Winston’s Kevin Presley, is a high schooler here, and some of the best character scenes circle around his relationship with the girl next door, Isabella Russo as Joy Yoshino.  It’s a young adult movie as much as Beetlejuice was a young adult movie, as Kevin’s character is similar to Winona Ryder’s angsty teen of that story.  Kevin is different–we don’t quite know why he is so depressed and negative, but it seems to follow his father’s inability to stay with one job for long.

The Presleys have moved to a house being sold by a realtor played by Faith Ford–it’s way under market for being a mansion even if it hasn’t been lived in for a year.  It certainly looks haunted.  But Kevin’s not a usual teenager, and when an actual ghost appears in his attic he just pulls out his cell phone and films him.  The fear intended to scare the family away doesn’t work (just like in Beetlejuice).  Kevin befriends the ghost instead, like in Casper the Friendly Ghost.

The ghost is played by David Harbour.  He arrives in a 1970s bowling short with the name Ernest.  When Kevin’s brother (played by Niles Fitch) and father (Mackie) discover the video of Ernest on Kevin’s phone, they do what all 2020s aspiring viral trenders do, and upload it, gaining a major following, resulting in fame for Ernest, the new, real ghost sensation.  But there’s more to Harbour’s ghost than meets the eye, and fans of Stranger Things will see he has much in common with Harbour’s sheriff in that series.

The movie also has several elements in common with Ghostbusters–Landon likes to pile on his tropes in his movies–and here that means a government agency, a dormant ghost-catching program, and Tig Notaro as the former CIA operative in charge of it.  Notaro gets to be more of the “bad guy” than usual, and she has less of her singular signature snark this time around.  But she’s a good addition to the cast, as is Jennifer Coolidge as a 2020s version of the medium in Beetlejuice.  Coolidge’s medium isn’t really a medium so much as the star of her own ghost hunters show–again, it’s all about counting the likes, views, and clicks.

Viewers will decide whether the big mystery of the movie is why Kevin is like he is or how Ernest got to be a ghost, or maybe it’s just a bit of both.

Jahi Winston handles the lead role well.  He plays his character as level-headed and smart, a kid who turns to music and has the style of a more reserved young Chris Rock.  David Harbour was a strong casting move, since the ghost cannot speak.  Harbour is able to use his body language and his facial features to communicate effectively and hold the film together.  Winston and Harbour bring some sweetness and sincerity to balance the loud crowds trying to get their piece of a famous ghost.  The best bits involve Harbour and Winston partnering on some pranks.  This doesn’t land like an expensive film.  The special effects–mainly Harbour’s ghost and some electrified ghostbusting rifles–look good on the screen but were probably fairly simple to craft.  Two scenes–Ernest trying to scare the medium and Ernest running through homes–probably could have been done better with a bigger budget.

We Have a Ghost isn’t a scary horror film, and its humor is not of the laugh-out-loud variety.  The plot isn’t tightly crafted, and the vibe bounces around from tense to silly to serious and never quite settles on any theme.  It’s a nice movie about a nice family (Erica Ash plays the mom, the only normal character in the group) and a good kid trying to survive his teen years, reconnect with his dad, and find a few kindred spirits in his new town.  Chalk another movie in the win column for Christopher Landon.  It’s not the whole package that his Happy Death Day movies are, but it’s fun enough to watch Landon’s ideas and career skills grow over time.

Watch it now.  We Have a Ghost is an all-new feature film streaming on Netflix.

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