It really is a great time to be David Harbour. His career has had a huge boost thanks to Netflix’s Stranger Things. Since then, he has enjoyed critical acclaim on stage, starred in a Marvel film (2021’s Black Widow), is currently working on a video game according to reports and has become an international sex symbol with a profile in GQ.
His latest film comes via Netflix again. In We Have A Ghost, Harbour has a whole new challenge; how to make an impression without any lines of dialogue?
Harbour plays Ernest, a ghost haunting the house that Anthony Mackie’s Frank and his family have just purchased. The house was suspiciously cheap, but the family get settled in anyway. The family’s 16-year-old son Kevin discovers Ernest in the attic, but rather than be scared, he’s mostly bemused, filming the ghost on his phone.
After the family upload the videos on the internet, Ernest becomes a viral sensation. So, naturally, it’s not long until the government comes knocking and your typical villainy agent (Tig Notaro) tries to apprehend Ernest.
Most of the film’s bloated runtime finds Kevin and the girl next door, Joy, trying to figure out what happened to Ernest. Ernest can’t speak or remember what happened to him, but the kids are determined to help him regardless.
The problem is that the film, directed by Christopher Landon, just isn’t very funny, nor is it scary. It’s obviously aimed at kids, but with a cast this good, you had all the ingredients for an all-time great ghost story.
We Have A Ghost clearly takes its influences from Steven Spielberg. There’s a lot of E.T. in We Have A Ghost, and Ernest is a likeable supernatural being. There are also some similarities between We Have a Ghost and Marcel the Shell With Shoes On in terms of narrative and the virality that both Marcel and Ernest enjoy in their respective films.
Harbour is clearly having the time of his life, and most of the film’s best gags involve him. It’s a charismatic turn from the actor, and a slow-mo sequence of Ernest running through various sets, set to ‘Words’ by Missing Persons, is a particular highlight.
Jahi Di’Allo Winston makes Kevin into a sensitive protagonist, and Isabella Russo is appropriately sassy as Joy. Mackie’s star power is somewhat reduced in a supporting role, but the emotional conflict between Frank and Kevin is believable. Mackie especially sells the socks off a monologue late in the film, where he opens up to Kevin.
It’s such a shame that the script, written by Landon, otherwise fails to develop any characters. Frank is set up as an interesting character, a father desperate to find success and provide for his family, but the character’s motivations are never explored. Kevin is also reduced to his desire to help Ernest. Nothing about him makes him special or unique.
Bear McCreary’s score is wistful and soft but is often reduced to cliches, making it feel like it was lifted from a different film. Nothing in the film feels original. We Have A Ghost simply can’t escape the heavy weight of its influences.
Landon, who directed the Vince Vaughn slasher Freaky and the Happy Death Day films, is a competent director, but We Have A Ghost is a mess. The CGI is terrible, and the obvious green-screen scenes look ugly. The film fails to find its own little niche, succumbing to mixing too many genres and motifs together.
We Have A Ghost is streaming on Netflix now.