Title: A Haunted House
Genre(s): Comedy, Horror
Director(s): Michael Tiddes
Release Year: 2013
Marlon Wayans may be out there gloating over the failure of Scary Movie 5 (you can read my review of that, here), and perhaps he has earned it with A Haunted House, but not by much. Buried deep underneath the lowest common denominator jokes that we know Wayans for, is something more resonant than the Scary Movie franchise was ever able to accomplish: the crumbling of a relationship. That is, until the last half hour of the film where all of the elements that made the Scary Movie franchise unfunny, return with a vengeance, and all that was human about the movie is pushed to the side for more jokes about homosexuality and flatulence. What carries the film is the charisma and dedication that Wayans displays as a comedic actor, managing to turn a dead dog joke into something that doesn’t seem completely tasteless just by seeming to genuinely care. With bit roles by David Koechner, Cedric The Entertainer and Nick Swardson, A Haunted House surprisingly starts off as an interesting take on the found-footage film, but suddenly degrades into everything that is normally expected from a Wayans production.
The relationship between Malcolm (Wayans) and Kisha (Essence Atkins) starts off at the forefront of A Haunted House with Kisha moving in with Malcolm after two years of being together. Soon Malcolm begins realizing that he doesn’t know everything he thought he did about Kisha. Add to that the ghost that is haunting their house ever since she moved in. The film slowly reveals the origins of the spirit to be from a deal with the devil that Kisha made in order to get a pair of Louis Vuitton shoes. That might sound ridiculous, but the film doesn’t start going off-the-rails completely until Steve (Andrew Daly) and Jenny (Alanna Ubach) make their second appearance in the movie. That’s not to say the film was flawless from the beginning to here, because it most certainly was not that, but at least it was dealing with some interesting ideas. Their relationship is falling apart, a love triangle is forming with the ghost, Kisha and Malcolm, and it is somewhat interesting to see how a relationship can deteriorate when a spirit is involved.
The inability for A Haunted House to deliver upon its portrayal of a couple drifting apart is in the fact that the movie relies so heavily on the lowest forms of humor possible. Never does it feel like the writers (Wayans and Rick Alvarez) are trying to subtly insert humor into the script. No, instead, everything needs to be beaten to death, from a prolonged sequence of Kisha passing gas to Malcolm fornicating with a stuffed animal. It is the crudest, most offensive humor possible, and most of the time, the most tasteless. However, there are moments when the jokes land, more so in the beginning when they are few and far between. Once Cedric the Entertainer comes in as a priest recently released from prison that is when Wayans falls back on his Scary Movie roots, providing as many parodies to horror films as humanly possible within one long exorcism scene. That’s the point when it felt like everything was being thrown at the wall, seeing what jokes stuck. Unfortunately, even if the childish humor never landed, the film still keeps going with the same gags over and over.
Then again, it isn’t like the cast assembled really warrants high expectations of humor. Never have I watched a Cedric the Entertainer film and expected high-brow comedy. When you have actors like Nick Swardson playing a psychic who never stops hitting on Malcolm, and David Koechner being a loud, offensive security man who can only ever talk about sex, then you know you’re not going to get anything worthwhile from them. Essence Atkins is tolerable, but also fairly hollow in the movie, so that really only leaves one actor who can save the film and boy does he try. Wayans delivers a charisma that is somewhat charming, and his dedication to the scenes is admirable, despite his own atrocious writing. The beginning of the movie has him actually trying to be an actor, and the chemistry between Atkins and Wayans is palpable, if not solely because of Marlon’s own efforts. He is more than willing to go completely over-the-top, and that helps the film at times, and harms it even more often.
A Haunted House has the inklings of a genuinely decent parody film in there, even trying to actually be scary at times. Unlike Scary Movie 5, the film doesn’t try to tie in multiple different horror movies into one ultimate parody, but instead focuses on examining the relationship between Malcolm and Kisha when a paranormal situation threatens their bond. So whether the jokes land or not, there does seem to be an effort to make a movie that is genuinely good. However, then the movie becomes a cesspool of offensive and disgusting humor which only the most immature of viewers could possibly find entertaining. Because of this, A Haunted House buries any remnants of a decent film under the same juvenile “comedy” which Wayans tried to distance himself from when he left the Scary Movie franchise.