We Have a Ghost movie review & film summary (2023)

Based on a short story called Ernest by Geoff Manaugh, “We Have a Ghost” opens with the Presley family moving to a fixer-upper in Chicago. Father Frank (Anthony Mackie) is struggling to make ends meet and to maintain a healthy relationship with his increasingly-distant son Kevin (Jahi Di’Allo Winston, so good in “Charm City Kings” and on “Everything Sucks!”). Almost immediately after their arrival, Kevin is exploring the attic when he encounters a trapped soul named Ernest (David Harbour, giving a silent performance). Ernest can’t talk but has been scaring away inhabitants since the ‘70s when he died. Kevin doesn’t get scared. He films Ernest with his phone, and there’s suddenly a viral ghost.

Imagine if there was an actual ghost all over TikTok and YouTube. What would happen? Landon doesn’t do nearly enough with this rich concept and just has people screaming outside the Presley home, including a guy dressed like Jesus. It’s interesting to watch Frank try to use Ernest’s existence as a cash infusion, becoming a cultural agent of sorts. He even brings in a local medium for an encounter with Ernest, a scene that allows for one of the film’s more impressive effects and potential memes from a Jennifer Coolidge cameo. But there’s not enough done with the idea of what proof of the afterlife would mean. It doesn’t have to be deeply philosophical, but even a little shallow exploration might have filled this concept out a bit.

Instead, “We Have a Ghost” shifts too much focus to a paranormal scientist named Dr. Leslie Monroe (Tig Notaro) and her CIA boss Arnold Schipley (Steve Coulter). Landon’s film becomes something of a chase/road movie in its midsection as Ernest, Kevin, and their scene-stealing neighbor Joy (Isabella Russo) try to escape the armed guards and get to the bottom of why this poor guy hasn’t fully moved to the next plane of existence. Of course, “We Have a Ghost” becomes a bit of a whodunit too as Ernest learns about what really happened to him, including the identity of his killer.

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