WE HAVE A GHOST
February 24, 2023 / AppleTV+
David Harbour, Anthony Mackie, Jahi Di'Allo Winston, Jennifer Coolidge
Finding a ghost named Ernest haunting their new home turns Kevin's family into overnight social media sensations. But when Kevin and Ernest go rogue to investigate the mystery of Ernest's past, they become a target of the CIA.
Written By Darren
Rating 3.5 out of 5
We Have A Ghost is a wonderful throwback to the family adventure films of Amblin Entertainment, that thanks to great performances from David Harbour, Anthony Mackie and Jahi Di’Allo Winston, writer-director Christopher Landon’s excellent vision comes to life and creates one truly entertaining film for the entire family.
For years, Christopher Landon has made a name for himself in the horror genre. Whether it be writing 2007’s Disturbia or the Paranormal Activity franchise, or branching out in the horror comedy genre with recent films like Freaky or Happy Death Day which he both wrote and directed, I personally hold Landon as one of the most exciting creators within the genre today. But refusing to allow himself to be pigeon holed as being solely a horror creator, Landon’s latest film may feature ghosts and laughs, but he flexes his creative talents by tapping into his inner Steven Spielberg and delivers a family centered film that is reminiscent of films from Amblin Entertainment.
Kevin and his family have moved into a new house that can only be described as a fixer upper. However, Kevin soon discovers why the house was so run down and up for sale: it has a ghost living in its attic. Quickly discovering that the ghost is not a terrifying spirit, but one named Ernest who is stuck in our world because of unresolved events from his past that he cannot remember, Kevin takes it upon himself to search for answers of who Ernest and how he died. Though, this unknowingly makes Kevin and his family the target of a secret CIA paranormal task force who want to capture Ernest for their own dark purposes.
Despite its PG-13 rating, We Have A Ghost is very much a family film that can easily be enjoyed by audiences of most ages. The budding friendship between Kevin and Ernest is reminiscent of Elliot and E.T. in E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, and it creates the heart of the film. With the strained relationship with his father being a primary focus of the screenplay, Kevin’s friendship with Ernest brings a warmth and beauty to the film that has you thinking to yourself that this is a cute story of friendship. It’s a hallmark that we have seen numerous times in the works of Spielberg, and Landon does a wonderful job emulating this within his own signature directorial style. At the same time, Landon builds the excitement of discovering a ghost and mystery of Ernest’s past to create a film that feels like a blockbuster in every sense of the word. You can see callings to classics like Beetlejuice, The Goonies, and other Amblin Entertainment productions throughout the film, but Landon’s screenplay never feels like a carbon copy: it's an homage to this forgotten family adventure genre that was prevalent during the 1980s and 1990s.
The screenplay did leave me with some minor notes, but nowhere near enough to wipe the smile off my face that I had throughout the entire film. The runtime of the film is slightly over two hours, which is ambitious given the simpler story at play, causing some minor pacing issues during the second act which could have been alleviated if the film was ten minutes shorter. Nor do all of the film’s comedic moments land. The majority of them work, generating some fun moments that are guaranteed to have the audience laughing. But, there are some that fall flat due to the setup not fully being there as the film fails to fully lean into its PG-13 rating, aiming for something more family friendly when the gag required the envelope to be pushed a little harder. Though as I said, they are not major issues as the screenplay overall is very strong. These issues are more at play in the first two acts, but the film consistently builds to a thrilling final act where the emotional stakes for Kevin and Ernest’s characters reach an all time high as the mystery behind Ernest’s death is revealed, which directly puts Kevin and his family at risk. It allows the film to end on an emotionally charged high point that will have audiences glued to the screen, hoping for a happy outcome as they have become so attached to the characters over the course of the film.
Without a doubt the best performance of the film belongs to David Harbour as Ernest, and that comes without a single line of dialogue as he can only moan or grunt. Harbour’s entire performance hinges on his body and facial expressions, which perfectly animate a wordless Ernest and creates a wide variety of emotions across the film. With the slightest smile or glance of his eyes, Harbour ensures you instantly know every feeling passing through Ernest’s mind. It is the definition of a quiet performance, but Harbour manages to say so much and builds the relationship at the centre of the film’s story. Opposite Harbour is Jahi Di’Allo Winston as Kevin, and he gives a truly terrific performance. The innocence and strength he brings to Kevin is exactly what the role requires, and his on screen chemistry with Harbour vividly brings the relationship between Kevin and Ernest to life.
One of the hottest stars out there today thanks to her scene stealing role in The White Lotus is Jennifer Cooledge, and she is a welcomed addition to the cast of the film as a television psychic investigating the paranormal. Her comedic timing as always is absolute perfection, playing the role very straight to hilarious effect as she encounters what is probably the first real ghost in her career. The other standout of the cast is Anthony Mackie as Kevin’s father Frank. On the surface, Frank is challenging to like at times as he is not the greatest father to Kevin and is very superficial as he tries to become an influencer due to Ernest’s presence in his house. But with each scene, Mackie adds a sense of heartbreak to Frank, who is truly struggling to connect with his son as he grows up and has diverging interests than him. It is this element of his performance that shows the incredible versatility Mackie has as an actor and helps round out the emotional character arc for Kevin over the course of the film.
Films like We Have A Ghost do not come around often enough these days. It’s a wonderful callback to the family adventure films of the past as Christopher Landon crafts a film that feels like it would have been created by Steven Spielberg and Amblin Entertainment. Thrilling, funny and most importantly heartwarming, We Have A Ghost is another great film from writer-director Christopher Landon that confirms him as one of the most exciting filmmakers working today, anchored by a trio of wonderful lead performances from David Harbour, Anthony Mackie and Jahi Di’Allo Winston.