The Movie Guru: ‘We Have a Ghost’ a well-made delight
“We Have a Ghost” is the movie version of the best sugar cookie ever made.
It’s easy to get your hands on a sugar cookie, but most of them are pretty average. They’re cheaply made and too sugary, forgettable even before you’ve finished eating. High-quality cookies, on the other hand, highlight their sweetness with more subtle flavors. They’re rich, surprisingly complex, and completely unforgettable.
The latest from writer/director Christopher Landon, “We Have a Ghost” takes on the classic “teen moves into a haunted house” genre of family movies. It’s a cookie-cutter standard that’s spat out dozens of duplicates, but Landon takes each aspect of the story as seriously as if he’s seen it for the first time. The plot is surprisingly nuanced, the relationships are complicated and achingly tender, and there are both genuine scares and a sprinkle of silliness. It’s a familiar genre, but in Landon’s hands it feels new.
The movie follows Kevin and his family as his family moves into a new house. Kevin hates everything about it, but when he befriends the ghost living upstairs he decides to help him get his memory back. Kevin’s dad, however, is more interested in fame, posting videos of the ghost that attract the wrong sort of attention. As enemies come closer and Kevin digs deeper into the mystery of the ghost’s past, it becomes a race against the clock.
The movie has a healthy dose of hi-jinks, though they’re mostly more interesting than simple slapstick. They establish the ghost’s physical properties in just the right way to make for a truly entertaining car chase, and there’s an on-foot run through an office that’s just delightful. There’s also an extended scene with a psychic that is peak horror comedy.
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All of that is anchored by genuine exploration of complicated emotions. Kevin is the kind of teen who feels deeply, and his relationship with his dad hurts in a really believable way. The ghost’s backstory is also pretty tragic, and his final catharsis is both sweet and heartbreaking.
The acting helps elevate the movie even more. Jahi Di’allo Winston is fantastic as Kevin, a deeply sensitive soul who would absolutely connect with a ghost and try to help it. Anthony Mackie is great as his dad, who means well but isn’t nearly as at peace with himself as his youngest son. Isabella Russo is fun as Joy, a neighbor girl who jumps in to help.
None of it would work, though, without David Harbour. The ghost can’t talk, but Harbour is fantastic at communicating a ton of emotion through his expression alone. Well before we actually know anything about his backstory, those emotions have made us as sympathetic to him as Kevin is.
Anyone familiar with the genre will be familiar with the basics of the story, but it’s a treat to see them used this well. No matter what, quality always goes down sweet.
Grade: Three and a half stars
Jenniffer Wardell is an award-winning movie critic and member of the Denver Film Critics Society. Find her on Twitter at @wardellwriter or drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.