Cinematic ghosts tend to be elusive creatures. There’s usually one character who can see them, but when that person tries to show someone else, there’s no payoff. They’re there exactly when you don’t want them to be (you know, like when you’re trying to get to sleep), but otherwise, you can’t capture them to prove their existence. They’re like the spectral version of that singing frog from that old Warner Brothers cartoon.


That’s not the case with Christopher Landon’s We Have a Ghost, new on Netflix. When Jahi Di’Allo Winston’s Kevin first pulls out his phone in the attic of the house his parents have just bought, he does capture the ghost on video. Anyone who is disinclined to believe the video evidence – we’re capable of great digital fakery nowadays – soon gets the physical evidence proven before their very eyes. Simply put, the movie skips all the time most ghost stories spend on having everyone doubt the protagonist and just gives us the goods from the start.

That may be a little too much of this ghost, even if Ernest (David Harbour) is a fairly beguiling creation. Ernest can’t speak, which is a counterintuitive choice on the surface, since Harbour’s considerable charisma comes largely from his verbal skills. Ernest also can’t remember much if anything of his life, a state of affairs he communicates wordlessly through sadly nodding or sadly shaking his head when he’s prompted by Kevin or by Kevin’s neighbour Joy (Isabella Russo). Even though this is a comedy, Landon smartly avoids giving Ernest the persona of a wisecracking sidekick, in turn preserving a little bit of his mystery.

It’s very hard to keep that mystery, though, when Ernest is on screen as much as he is. Him being around so much – and even proving himself able to leave the house he’s haunting, which goes against normal ghost rules – begs a lot of questions, not the least of which is: If any ghost could be as accessible to the public as Ernest, why haven’t any of them done so before? But the bigger question is on a narrative level, where having this full additional character around, in pretty much every scene, makes him too mundane by half. Even without him saying anything, we’re sort of tired of him at the end of more than two hours of movie.

Frank and Melanie Presley (Anthony Mackie and Erica Ash) bought a suspiciously under-priced fixer upper as another chance to start over, after Frank’s numerous previous wealth-making schemes have all gone belly up. Their realtor (Faith Ford) doesn’t tell them that the last family ran out screaming and never came back, which is why the house is available on the cheap. Despite being in a sort of shambles when they buy it, the house is indeed fixed up in record time and comes to quickly resemble the sort of grand home full of wide open spaces you only see in the movies.


It’s the jaded teenage son Kevin who first hears Ernest making noise in the attic, but doesn’t blink when Ernest tries to spook him with some standard-issue ghost tactics like raising his hands menacingly and issuing elongated boos. It may be that Kevin is inherently more entertained than scared by Ernest, who appears in a bowling shirt and has a comb over. It’s clear Ernest’s heart isn’t really in being scary, though he doesn’t know how that temperament developed because he doesn’t remember his life – which becomes a central quest for him and Kevin and Joy.

Of course, Frank sees Ernest a bit differently. A man constantly trying to provide for his family knows that in the internet age, he can make a pretty penny on YouTube showing verified footage of a real ghost. Before long, he’s a full Ernest entrepreneur, and legions of believers in the afterlife gather around their house 24-7 to get a glimpse of the ghost. But Frank’s cash cow is at risk when Ernest and Kevin disappear – to attempt to track down the details of Ernest’s past, but Frank and his wife don’t know that at the time. It’ll certainly result in a reckoning whether he’s got his priorities straight.


Landon staked a great claim to horror comedy – though there’s not very much horror here – with his serial killer version of Freaky Friday, the Vince Vaughn vehicle Freaky. That film has both the teeth and the sweetness this film wants to have. We Have a Ghost doesn’t have the ambition of another obvious point of comparison, Peter Jackson’s The Frighteners, which gave us similar ghost effects. The fact that the ghost effects are similar, even though The Frighteners came out 27 years ago, suggests that Landon’s film isn’t the technical ground-breaker one would want – but also that this sort of ghost comedy feels like a relic from another time.

What ultimately earns it a mild recommendation, rather than a mild pan, is that it does manage to be very likable. We Have a Ghost overcomes some flaws in its conception and execution precisely because it does have such a good cast, which also includes comedy treasure Jennifer Coolidge in a smaller role as a TV psychic. Harbour finds himself forever having to elevate subpar material, but at least the material here is much better than the most recent time he had to do this in last year’s Violent Night. And then in Mackie you of course have the former Falcon and future Captain America in the MCU, charming as all get out.


Less would have been more, though. A movie like We Have a Ghost doesn’t need to be two hours and seven minutes long, not when it doesn’t even have the part where everyone doubts whether the ghost really exists.


We Have a Ghost is currently streaming on Netflix.

6 / 10