Written by: Marlon Wayans & Rick Alvarez
Directed by: Michael Tiddes
Starring: Marlon Wayans, Essence Atkins, and Marlene Forte
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
ďWho am I kidding? I can't sell a house in this market! Immediate possession? It's already possessed!"
You can always tell when a genre (or subgenre) has reached its saturation point: itís not signalled by the hordes of imitators but rather by the spoofs. Over the past 13 years, the Wayans clan has been around to let us know when the horror genre needs to be taken down a peg or two. A decade after ditching the Scary Movie franchise, Marlon Wayans returned to reclaim his territory with A Haunted House, a film thatís just about as inspired as its title may suggest. A good spoof highlights the absurdity of the genre itís tackling. A poor one like A Haunted House just leaves me wishing Hollywood would give this genre a rest so as to not provide Wayans with any more fodder.
Predictably, A Haunted House borrows Paranormal Activity for its framework, as a young coupleís (Wayans and Essence Atkins) decision to move in together goes sour in a hurry thanks to a demonic intrusion. But instead of leading to mounting tension, the setup is turned into a farcical parade of goofs and gags that hit the expected highlights from the Paranormal series and other similarly-themed films from recent years. Thereís not so much a plot as there is a tired recitation of familiar beats, only theyíve been injected with dick and fart jokes.
Iíd say that A Haunted House just isnít for me and cut my losses there, but thatíd be a lieóI enjoy good lowbrow humor as much as the next meathead. I even recall laughing at the first couple of Scary Movies in theaters, though I should note that I was only sixteen and therefore a bit of an idiot. So maybe itís not just me but rather the fact that A Haunted House is insipid as hell. Accusing it of scraping the bottle of the barrel insinuates that thereís any effort to actually dig for jokes. Instead, Wayans and company are content to skim right off the top for the most obvious material: racial tension, sex, homophobia, drugs, and shitting.
But, again, itís not so much the song but the singers. Wayans and co-writer Rick Alvarez donít bother to cleverly set up most of the gags, and, even worse, most sequences are interminable. At one point, Wayans dry humps a set of stuffed animals for what feels like four hours. Another scene finds him and a buddy dancing around the topic of swinging at an inane pool party that seemingly only exists because, hey, there was a pool scene in Paranormal Activity 2. Even if this is your preferred brand of humor, I canít imagine youíd enjoy having the flavor completely boiled out of it by the lack of restraint on display here. And if you find it unfunny at first blush, it invites total disdain when itís pummeled right into the ground.
One of the few inspired moments points to the type of film A Haunted House could have been: when confronted with the possibility that his house is actually haunted, Wayans does exactly what most audiences implore characters to do by getting the fuck out of dodge. Unfortunately, this is just another float in the procession, as the film swiftly returns to business as usual and forgoes any opportunity to deconstruct the genre at all. Shit, it doesnít even bother to riff on the ďitís not the house thatís hauntedĒ dialogue from Insidious, one of the few times the film doesnít resort to an obvious joke. Other bits are also mildly amusing, but each is counterbalanced by something that negates it, almost as if the film were specifically engineered to suck. Typically funny folks (like David Koechner) share the screen with the likes of Nick Swardson (playing a gay psychic), while an admittedly clever nod to The Entity only comes after a series of rape jokes.
With so much low-hanging fruit dangling in this genre, a film like A Haunted House was inevitable. I just wish Wayans werenít so adamant about plucking it with such obvious disinterest. One of the unfortunate side effects to successóespecially success that comes efficiently and relatively cheaply like found footage filmsóis the numerous, pale imitators, so you can imagine what itís like when a spoof like this barely deviates from the blueprint. Actually, you donít even have to imagine it because A Haunted House is a film that exists; sometimes, a terrible filmís existence inspires still awe because its reaches sublime levels of badness. The problem with A Haunted House is that itís predictably terrible from the opening frame and only inspires disappointment and boredom. Perhaps even more predictably, a sequel is imminent since the last 15 months have yielded more fruit for Wayans to cobble into another film. Hopefully, heíll treat it as an opportunity to prove that the apple hasnít fallen too far from the family tree. Trash it!
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