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June 20, 2013

A Haunted House

by Franz Patrick


Haunted House, A (2013)
★ / ★★★★

Malcolm (Marlon Wayans) buys a new camera to commemorate Kisha (Essence Atkins), his girlfriend, moving into his home. Although moving in together can be a trial for many couples, from getting acclimated to annoying habits of one’s partner to dealing with an increasing lack of excitement due to constantly being around one another, it seems as though they have a more… supernatural problem on their plate. Objects start to go missing or ending up in the wrong place. Kisha is convinced that there is a ghost; Malcolm thinks there is a burglar. It isn’t long until they hire a psychic (Nick Swardson) to investigate.

There is no denying that “A Haunted House” is yet another tired parody of horror movies. This time, it pokes fun of Oren Peli’s “Paranormal Activity” (as well as some of its sequels), William Brent Bell’s “The Devil Inside,” William Friedkin’s “The Exorcist,” and, to some extent, John Erick Dowdle’s “Quarantine.” It isn’t that it is bereft of laughter. I laughed sporadically. The problem is in the screenplay: it is so desperate for laughs that it is willing to throw anything on the screen. As a result, the comedy is scattered and aimless.

It is too busy burrowing so much from its inspirations that the writers, Marlon Wayans and Rick Alvarez, neglect to establish a semblance of a story. I was not expecting an original plot–it is a parody after all. A basic foundation of storytelling is not too much to ask for. Instead, it is simply composed of familiar setups: after a character tinkers with a camera in the room, something bizarre starts to happen, and characters react. While the freak-outs are amusing in the beginning, it is exhausted about halfway through, and by the end it is nothing but cheap and annoying.

Much of the humor relies on sex–rather, the awkwardness of the concept. It is immature in a lot of ways, and I believe on purpose, but some work. I had a laughing fit at the scene involving Malcolm pretending to have sex with–not one, not two, but three–stuffed animals as he waits for Kisha getting ready for bed. The several sexual positions combined with Wayans’ enthusiasm to make it very funny prove fruitful. It’s silly, dirty fun, nothing more.

But then it goes for unnecessarily offensive humor. The bodily humor did not bother me so much. Rather, I was offended with its occasional reliance on black stereotypes. At one point black hoodlums–wearing baggy jeans, wife beater shirts, and talking “ghetto”–get invited to the house. They talk big game, every breath a threat. They believe what they are up against is something they can beat up and scare away using their fists. Once they learn that a ghost is involved, they run away screaming like girls. The scene is not at all funny so I wondered why it made the final cut. It is a missed opportunity to subvert certain stereotypes.

Furthermore, it is homophobic at times. Chip, the psychic, hits on Malcolm consistently despite the lead character telling him many times that he is neither interested nor has had any sexual experience with other men. Chip is written so relentlessly creepy that, I think, people who watch the film who are not used to having gay people around them will likely have their fears and stereotypes magnified.

Directed by Michael Tiddes, “A Haunted House” starts off tolerable but devolves into an endurance test. The colorful characters who are allowed by the screenplay to enter the house during the climax is telling if its own scarcity of ideas: punchlines that have been delivered before rehashed into familiar shrill shrieking and clowning around.

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