Weekend film reviews: ‘Haunted Mansion,’ ‘Talk to Me,’ ‘War Pony’

In “Haunted Mansion,” a single mom hires a psychic, a tour guide, a historian, and a priest to exorcise her spooky house. Credit: YouTube.

The latest film releases are “Haunted Mansion,” “Talk to Me,” “War Pony,” and “Sympathy for the Devil.” KCRW gets critiques from Katie Walsh, film reviewer for the Tribune News Service, the Los Angeles Times, and The Wrap; and Tim Grierson, senior U.S. critic for Screen International and author of “This Is How You Make a Movie."

“Haunted Mansion”

This horror-comedy is Disney’s remake of the 2003 version starring Eddie Murphy, and based on the Disneyland ride. Here, a single mom hires a psychic, a tour guide, a historian, and a priest to exorcise her spooky house. This is directed by Justin Simien and stars LaKeith Stanfield, Owen Wilson, Tiffany Haddish, and Jamie Lee Curtis.

Walsh: “Every time this script goes into something weird or funny or kind of strange, it just goes back to the conventional. and it sends you spiraling down these same-looking hallways … over and over again. So there is a sense of feeling like a ride that you can't ever get off.”

Grierson: “If you're a fan of the Haunted Mansion attraction at Disneyland, there are lots of references to that. So you might enjoy that. But the thing I actually like about the Haunted Mansion ride at Disneyland is that it's low-key and charming and fun and it's spooky. … The movie is actually much more. It's like a lot of big, summer event movies, where there's lots of special effects, everything is big, big, big. And it just drowns out the charm of what the actual ride is like to be on.” 

“Talk to Me”

A group of friends figure out how to conjure spirits with an embalmed hand. Then one of them unleashes supernatural forces. This film premiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival and is Danny and Michael Philippou’s feature debut. 

Grierson: “The movie has a really great creepy, crawly atmosphere to it. There are some — and I mean this in a good way — disgusting scares in the film. The story is not as strong. I think the movie sometimes suffers from what horror movies sometimes suffer from, which is the characters do dumb things to further the plot.”

Walsh: “This movie is great. I think it is a star-making performance. What I love about this movie is that it does not rely on jumpscares. It is just really disturbing, really dark, some really grisly imagery. But it's not trying to surprise you, it's just trying to immerse you in this really moody atmosphere. And the filmmakers, it's their directorial debut. They're YouTubers, and I think that their filmmaking chops are pretty good.”

“War Pony”

This drama follows two Oglala Lakota boys living on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Two of the writers are Indigenous – Franklin Sioux Bob and Bill Reddy – and it’s based on some of their experiences growing up on the reservation. During its world premiere at Cannes last year, it won the Caméra d’Or (Best First Feature Film). 

Walsh: “It’s looking at their day-to-day existence. I think the themes that the movie is really dealing with, aside from family and fatherhood, is also capitalist exploitation, and the way that this ancient community is dealing with economic realities of our modern world. And it never strays from that idea of money and trying to survive and how challenging poverty is. … It's really beautiful. It maybe goes on a little bit too long. It ends a few different times, but I think that there's just certain images and emotions and actors that I will just never stop thinking about watching this film.”

Grierson: “[Filmmakers Gina Gammell and Riley Keough] do a great job of capturing the atmosphere and the world of this res — how it works, the different groups of people who are at the res and around the res. That's all really well done. I don't think, storywise, it's as strong. I think it sometimes struggles grafting on a more movie-ish plot onto a very naturalistic, realistic world that they've created. There's no doubt that these filmmakers have made this film with a lot of love and care and respect for the community that they're trying to portray. I just think that the narrative that they put onto it feels a little more forced, and feels a little more unnatural to the actual world that they presented so well.”

“Sympathy for the Devil”

Joel Kinnaman plays a man forced at gunpoint to drive a mysterious passenger played by Nicolas Cage. 

Grierson: “Though the movie has a fun, grungy, gritty B-movie, thriller feel, there are some twists coming, and you can see them coming up the road a bit. Both Nicolas Cage and Joel Kinnaman are fun. The tension between the two of them are fun, but this is a very much a B-movie that I think you can skip in theaters.” 

Walsh: “I watched the trailer. I thought, ‘Yes, I am all in because it is just Nicolas Cage in wild boy mode.’ It turns out they took all of his crazy line readings and put them all in the trailer, and then you watch the actual movie and it doesn't have the same energy of what you were expecting. You're like, ‘Yes, I want something crazy bonkers. I want Nicolas Cage [in] ‘Collateral’ and you realize that it's actually quite hard to make.”