Netflix’s We Have a Ghost, based on the short story “Ernest” by Geoff Manaugh, has seemingly everything going for it: The cast, the director, and the premise are all fantastic components to what could have made for a truly excellent supernatural movie set in the age of social media fame.
So… what happened?
“If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say…”
Let me back up for a moment. We Have a Ghost isn’t horrible. I can find something nice to say about nearly any creative work. But as someone who often enjoys movies that make others exclaim, “Who exactly is this for?!” I found myself saying, well, “Who exactly is this We Have a Ghost for?”
I love ghost movies. I love horror comedies. I love ghost-centric horror comedies (The Frighteners is one of my Top Five favorite movies of all time)! I love a good mystery. For what it’s worth, I enjoyed the We Have a Ghost soundtrack — CCR’s “Who’ll Stop the Rain?” and Alice Cooper’s “No More Mr. Nice Guy” are always fun to hear, and Bear McCreary’s original score was pleasantly fitting but not overly distracting.
I’ve also enjoyed some of director/co-writer Christopher Landon’s other horror comedy work (Freaky, Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse) so I went into We Have a Ghost brimming with optimism. And I was familiar with most of We Have a Ghost’s charming cast…
Except the Cast Wasn’t Charming.
Jahi Di’Allo Winson as Kevin was the sole exception. He did an excellent job and shined as the lead (living) character. Dare I say, he often carried the film! If he hadn’t been there as someone likable to root for, I’m not sure I would have watched We Have a Ghost to its conclusion.
This misuse of the talented cast left me feeling baffled scene after scene! Nearly every actor in We Have a Ghost has had scene-stealing charisma in every other role they’ve played.
Let’s be real: Did anyone other than extreme diehards care about Marvel’s Falcon/Sam Wilson before Anthony Mackie totally owned the role? Likewise, whenever Jennifer Coolidge (Legally Blonde, The White Lotus) shows up, even for the briefest of cameos, you know you’re in for a treat, right? Same for Tig Notaro — Army of the Dead may have been a mixed bag, but Tig stood out as a likeable human connection (and she wasn’t even filmed in the same room as any of the other actors, seriously making the best of a very odd filming situation!).
David Harbour (Stranger Things, Black Widow, Violent Night), as “Ernest” the ghost, has also shown talent for both comedy and drama; both skills that were needed to pull off wacky ghost antics (ala the Maitlands’ haunting their own home in Beetlejuice) and weightier, more emotional moments: such as getting to the heart of why/how he became a ghost in the first place.
I’ve only listed off the “bigger” names here! The entire cast is riddled with folks with comedic chops. So why was one of the biggest laughs when Isabella Russo, as Kevin’s neighbor Joy Yoshino, proudly shares that her cellphone number is “222-POOP”?
How Was I Supposed to Feel, Exactly?
The comedy wasn’t funny, the mystery wasn’t compelling, the drama was irritating (it’s clear early on that Kevin’s father is the real “child” character and young Kevin was forced to grow up early because of him; but it’s treated as a “revelation” moment in the final quarter of the film), and tonally We Have a Ghost was just all-around awkward.
Take Kevin’s older brother Fulton, for example: Fulton casually swipes through Tinder while at the dinner table with his family (labeling potential matches as “nasty”) and, later on, excitedly proclaims that catching a ghost on film is going to get him “laid.” Now, in my opinion, people can do what they please so long as its not illegal or objectively harmful, but dang, dude. Scrolling for sexual hookups in front of your parents? Even if that was an attempt at humor, it just felt weird.
And that was just one of many “uh… wat??” oddly sexual-for-no-reason moments in We Have a Ghost. Others that come immediately to mind are the random “furries” glimpsed during a motel stay (perhaps an ill-handled homage to the bear-suited man in The Shining?) and ghost pal “Ernest” haunting a radio to play Barry White’s “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love, Babe” when the underage teens are forced to share a bed while on the run from the vague Government Villains (think ET, Harry and the Hendersons, etc.).
We Have a Ghost is listed in the “family” category on both IMDb and Netflix; however, the runtime (over two hours) and dull familial drama would be a chore for younger kids to sit through and the sexual references wouldn’t go over most tweens’ heads which would make for a truly cringe-worthy family Movie Night experience.
At the 30-minute mark, We Have a Ghost manages to pick up briefly, but it plateaus quickly and then drops off. Rather than a true narrative arc, it’s storyline is a gentle hill. A tiny blip on an otherwise flat line. It feels like a short story that’s been stretched to its absolute limits.
We Have a… Wasted Potential
Loving a movie or hating a movie: Both are passionate reactions. Memorable emotions. You don’t have to commit every line of a loved or hated film to memory to know exactly how it made you feel, even years later.
I’m writing my review of We Have a Ghost the same night I watched it because I know that, by tomorrow, I’ll have forgotten I even watched it.
If it weren’t for the Closed Captions (“[Emotional Music Playing]”), I wouldn’t know how I was supposed to feel at any given moment. The primary feelings I was left with were indifference, general confusion, and a wistful disappointment.
The real ghost in We Have a Ghost wasn’t David Harbour’s “Ernest,” it was the glimmer of what could have been. A talented cast were reduced to mere echoes of even their most insignificant prior performances, and an otherwise historically fun writer/director helming a feature so forgettably bland it’s already turning to particles in my mind — ready to be swept away by a CGI wind.Become a Patron!
Images purchased for review purposes via MovieStillsDB and CineMaterial.
Lauren Spear (née Tharp) is the owner of LittleZotz Writing, a super-respectable multiple award-winning website for freelance writers. She’s also the HorrorFam.com founder! Lauren grew up in the horror industry (her parents did practical special FX work for many of the horror movies you love from the ’80s and ’90s) and basically created this site so she could freely gas on about creepy stuff and stop having to pretend to be normal.