Review: Humor has only a ghostly presence in ‘A Haunted House’

Marlon Wayans and Essence Atkins star in "A Haunted House."
(Will McGarry, Open Road Films)

Written by Marlon Wayans and Rick Alvarez and not so much directed as vaguely steered by Michael Tiddes, “A Haunted House” is a ramshackle parody of recent found-footage horror movies in the vein of the “Scary Movie” movies.

If you already saw the titles referenced here, mostly the “Paranormal Activity” films, the otherwise forgotten “The Devil Inside” and kind of “The Exorcist” — the crucifix but not the pea soup — there may be a certain passing feeling of being in on the joke. The problem is that’s all the joke there is.


“A Haunted House” revolves around Malcolm (Wayans), whose girlfriend (Essence Atkins) moves in with him and immediately it seems she has brought with her some spirit that is now possessing their house.

PHOTOS: Haunted houses and deadly dwellings on film


There are vague hints that the story is “really” about the difficulties and anxiety of commitment, but then one of many variations on a fart joke distracts from any actual idea.

The film exploits the jump cuts that are an inherent part of the found-footage style to drive every single joke into the ground with repetition and alternates.


What should be a brief gag about Wayans pretend-humping a stuffed animal while waiting for his girlfriend to emerge into the bedroom goes on and on, while David Koechner and Cedric the Entertainer are allowed to just riff away at most any moment.

What’s far more problematic, though, are the unbridled homosexual panic that runs throughout the film and the misfiring attempts at race-based humor.


Whereas “Django Unchained” has forced a conversation about how we process racial representation on film, “A Haunted House” just steamrolls awkwardly into a scene where Koechner’s workman asks Malcolm if he’s allowed to use the “N” word.

In Case You Missed It: OSCARS 2013 | Complete list | Snubs & surprises | Reactions | Play-at-Home ballot |Trivia | Oscar Watch | Timeline| Full coverage


There are assorted gags along the lines of “White people do this / Black people do that,” and a running gag about a “Mandingo party.” If that phrase does not ring a bell, it might be wise not to look it up.

Additionally, the movie includes a scene in which five men physically assault a woman in a basement; during a series of outtakes that run with the movie’s end credits, another woman declares “domestic violence is amazing.” The comment makes no sense in or out of context.


No-holds-barred comedy is one thing, hurtful thoughtlessness is something else entirely. An ostensible comedy shouldn’t have so many moments that feel so ugly.



‘A Haunted House’


MPAA rating: R for crude and sexual content, language and some drug use

Running time: 1 hour, 26 minutes


Playing: In general release


VIDEO: The making of ‘Argo,’ ‘Les Miz’ and more

VIDEO: Holiday movies - A video guide

PHOTOS: NC-17 movies: Ratings explained