David Harbour Is a Pimped-Out Ghoul in Netflix’s Chaotic ‘We Have a Ghost’
There are a handful of films that were made to be featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000. Perhaps that’s a little too dated for the Netflix generation (though the streamer rebooted the hilarious movie commentary show in 2017)—think CinemaSins, the snarky movie analysis YouTube channel, but less cynical and more goofy. If Netflix were still
There are a handful of films that were made to be featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000. Perhaps that’s a little too dated for the Netflix generation (though the streamer rebooted the hilarious movie commentary show in 2017)—think CinemaSins, the snarky movie analysis YouTube channel, but less cynical and more goofy. If Netflix were still releasing new episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000 today, its new movie We Have A Ghost would be the perfect sci-fi romp to be jeered and teased by Joel and The Mads.
Without that as an option, you’ll have to prepare the witty commentary on your own. Before watching We Have A Ghost, a horror comedy featuring David Harbour as a friendly house ghost, make sure to gather a handful of friends, who will add commentary like, “Why is Anthony Mackie trying to pimp the phantom out into porn?” The movie feels like a bloated SNL Halloween sketch—which, if you like to laugh at cheesy movies, is probably a good thing. Like the Fear Street trilogy, We Have a Ghost boasts good humor, a few thrills, and a gaggle of larger-than-life characters to keep the Amblinesque sci-fi comedy fun and lighthearted.
Because We Have a Ghost has an unnecessarily long two-hour-and-seven minute runtime to fill, the movie reiterates everything to its audience over and over again. Before the main family can move into the haunted house and bring us into the heart of the film, we’re forced to watch the previous owners race out of the abode of terrors in fright to signal that, yes, the house is haunted. The frazzled realtor offering an unbelievable discount wasn’t enough to deter these initial owners. Nor were the creaky old floorboards or the dusty attic. It’s already in the movie’s title—we get it, there’s a ghost. No need to reiterate this 17 times over before our awkward leading teen Kevin Presley (Jahi Di’Allo Winston) finally runs into ghastly Ernest (Harbour) in his attic.
Still, director Christopher Landon (Freaky, Happy Death Day 2U) is able to spin hokey-ness into a good time—which is exactly the case with We Have a Ghost. Kevin is joined in the house by his family: yoga fanatic mom Melanie (Erica Ash), good-humored brother Fulton (Niles Fitch), and ex-pyramid scheme salesman father Frank (Mackie). Frank’s the silliest character of the four, as a father who prioritizes fame and fortune over his family. We later learn that he was caught selling a phony version of Viagra that caused diarrhea, prompting the Presleys to move into this new home; I’d pay good money to watch this We Have a Ghost prequel film.
While Kevin struggles to make friends at his new school and butts heads with his squirm-inducing dad, he seeks solace in Ernest. Ernest doesn’t remember his past. He can’t speak to living beings, though he can communicate in emotive glares and smiles. Naturally, he makes a perfect best friend for a hormonal teenage boy.
But Kevin and Ernest can’t keep their friendship a secret for too long, because the former happens to take a video of his new pal during their first encounter. Comic mishaps lead Fulton and Frank to look through the poor kid’s phone, and they’re alarmed to find a video of a screaming ghost. There’s no question as to whether Kevin, who spends most of his time in his room brooding, has been experimenting with animation. No, there’s a ghost in the attic, no doubt! Frank swiftly uploads the video to YouTube to capitalize on the haunted home.
The ghost video goes “viral” (a 1,000 views on YouTube). Frank demands more shots of the ghost, now employing his sons to shoot footage of Ernest so that they can, um, pay the bills? Kevin and Fulton oblige, filming Ernest as he meets their frightened mother, moves through the walls, and performs other ghost tricks. The videos blow their expectations out of the water! (Now they’re at 40,000 views—what a feat!) They eventually grab the attention of two of the movie’s finest stars, CIA ghost hunter Dr. Leslie Monroe (Tig Notaro) and Long Island Medium knock-off Judy Romano (Jennifer Coolidge), who visit the house to scope out Ernest.
This all happens before the one-hour mark in the movie, crammed into a fun first half that leads to a bit of a snooze in the back half of the film. After the shine of the fame wears off, with paparazzi knocking on the Presleys’ door every hour, Kevin has a new prerogative: He wants to find out Ernest’s background. All we know about the ghost is that he sports a bowling tee embroidered with the name “Ernest.” Is that even his real name? With help from his love interest (Isabella Russo), Kevin journeys across the state to figure out Ernest’s origins. The movie takes a boring turn into CIA car chases and ghost fights here, but its final twist is worth tearing through that monotonous 45-minute stretch of monotonous plot.
It’s also hard to show interest in a ghost that can’t speak, communicating only with the human world (and therefore, the audience) through melodramatic sighs and looks of despair. Here, Harbour tries his hardest to win us over, emoting like a teen theater star attempting to win over the Juilliard scout in the first row of his high school Oliver Twist production. Here’s Ernest frowning with distaste for his gruelish, boring life. Now, he’s brimming with joy, a huge grin on his face to welcome a new friend! The Stranger Things actor’s face must still be tired from the “Ernest reacts with shock” and “Ernest reacts with sadness” direction in the script replacing any dialogue for the character.
That said, We Have a Ghost is at its best when Ernest interacts with the Presley family. Mackie and Harbour are a delight to watch, as are Coolidge and Notaro, though it’s a shame the dueling ghost warriors never go head-to-head in a scene together. If the horror comedy shaved off a quarter of its lengthy runtime, it would hit the right balance. While it’s still a good time with haunts galore, when Tig Notaro starts whipping out CIA ghost laser guns—which, shamefully, is not as fun as it sounds—imagine those Mystery Science Theater 3000 guys in silhouette, teasing the movie. You’re going to need good humor and patience to finish the film.