As a kid, I was fascinated by the idea that a ghost like Casper could become friends with a kid. Just like Stuart little, the unlikeliness of it happening made it all the more exciting. Casper presented an unthreatening, adorable presence that broke the conventions of how we looked at ghosts. It seemed less like a Halloween film and more like a family film that could be viewed anytime. Christopher Landon’s ‘We Have a Ghost’ wants to be both of them. In addition to that, it wants to ride on the current wave of self-aware humor.
This horror-comedy on Netflix presents a black family moving to a new home in a new town. The parents – Frank Presley (played by Anthony Mackie) and Melanie Presley (played by Erica Ash), are looking for a fresh start. With his professional life in a not-so-good state, Frank hopes to make the best use of this change. Meanwhile, his young son Kevin (played by Jahi Di’Allo Winston) is in his adolescence and is pressured to stick to the cultural norms his father expects from him.
Kevin listens to white musicians and spends much of his time improving his skills on guitar. Unlike him, his brother – Fulton (played by Niles Fitch), fits in a manly norm that his father approves of. There’s a clear dissonance in this father-son relationship where personal aspirations come into play. Kevin comes across a ghost in this new home, where they try to adjust to their new lives. Only this time, it doesn’t scare him. It tries to follow the ‘ghosts think they are scary, but their scaring skills are outdated’ shtick. That’s where the film opens up to its self-aware territory.
While occasionally taking digs at horror tropes, the script provides occasional chuckles. Haven’t we learned anything from white families getting stuck in haunted houses? Frank and Melanie argue, citing this very trope. There is momentary amusement, and then there is a familial drama. In his new school, Kevin meets Joy Yoshino (played by Isabella Russo) and gets infatuated with her in no time. Their goofball pair struggles with similar issues – racist classmates and overbearing parents.
While Frank wants Kevin to be more and more like an ideal black person in his mind, Joy’s parents expect her to excel in everything. Their cultural expectations become their children’s burdens. The ghost has his own father-daughter tale, where David Harbour’s Ernest becomes a silent participant in Kevin’s life while seeking help to overcome his past trauma. Unlike him, who looks at his misery with genuine concern, Frank sees him as an opportunity to gain online traction and monetary gain. All they seek is some good old-fashioned closure!
The subsequent drama explores the themes of social media fanaticism, authoritarian pressure, and, on occasion, racial bias. Yet the biggest drawback is how none of them materializes into anything meaningful or worthwhile. There is rather a reliance on trying to bring humor to make it into a light-hearted comedy. That’s where the casting of Tig Notaro and Jennifer Coolidge comes into play.
Tig Notaro’s dry comic delivery is like an acquired taste of wine. It works wonders, especially when she is in command of her material. However, her comedic skills are better utilized in Your Place Or Mine than over here. She still manages to own the moments she has been handed, but there’s nothing more to it. Speaking about Jennifer Coolidge, this is yet another project where she is used solely as a comic relief (like her recent romance action thriller – Shotgun Wedding). Over here, she plays yet another clueless diva. Since there’s no White Lotus-level depth in her character, she is brought in just for occasional laughs. While she acts her part well, her role has hardly any relevance to the plot.
So that brings me back to the film’s writing. After its fairly impressive initial build-up, it quickly starts to fall apart for many reasons. None of its characters or themes is explored enough to sustain its thrill or attention. Its humor starts wearing thin when the film veers into the territories of genre conventions – the same thing it makes fun of in its first half.
Besides this evident flaw, it starts dragging after a point since it never settles on what it wants to be. It occasionally becomes a self-aware comedy, then a cheap thriller, besides being a rudimentary family drama. Since this ping-pong of genres is not handled well, it ends up being yet another forgettable Netflix movie.