A Haunted House

Or, 'Paranormal Movie'

A Haunted House

Rating A Haunted HouseA Haunted HouseA Haunted HouseA Haunted House

Directed by Michael Tiddes. Starring Marlon Wayans, Nick Swardson, Cedric the Entertainer, David Koechner, Essence Atkins, Dave Sheridan, Jamie Noel, Affion Crockett, Marlene Forte, J.B. Smoove, Alanna Ubach, Andrew Daly. Written by Rick Alvarez, Marlon Wayans.

In the opening few minutes of A Haunted House, a small dog is run over by a car and killed; Marlon Wayans’ Malcolm Johnson attempts to resurrect it with jumper cables before running down the street in tears with the lifeless corpse in his arms. Comedy! 

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A Haunted House, directed by Michael Tiddes and written by Wayans and Rick Alvarez, follows in the grand tradition set by Scary Movie more than a decade ago and beat to death by the Jason Friedberg-Aaron Seltzer Movie movies, including Date Movie, Epic Movie, Disaster Movie, and Vampires Suck.

The best compliment I can pay to A Haunted House is that it’s better than most of those films. That said, it’s still terrible. Such is the state of the modern day spoof, the ZAZ days of Airplane and The Naked Gun long forgotten. Idea for the next one: Spoof Movie, a sendup of everything these films do wrong. When the result is terrible, you can call it meta. 

A Haunted House purports to send up the found footage horror genre, the Paranormal Activity series, in particular, with some dashes of The Last Exorcism and The Devil Inside. It’s a genre ripe for ribbing, with a lot of clichés and overused devices just begging to be torn into. 

But this isn’t that kind of comedy. No, this is the kind of comedy that makes reference to something you’ve seen before, and because the tone is lighter, it’s supposed to be funny. No setup-payoff jokes – those are difficult to write and properly execute. The characters don’t participate in the telling of jokes: they are the jokes, because they’re gay, or black, or sex-crazed.

There is precisely one gag here that amused me. Most of the Paranormal Activity films take place in dead silence, and we just stare at camera, waiting for the loud “boo!” that’s inevitably around the corner. A Haunted House got a smile from me with the “boo!”, though it ain’t exactly high comedy. Spoiler alert: it’s a fart joke (one of many, many fart jokes the film has to offer). 

There’s no plot to speak of in the film, just an assortment of sketches centered around the concept of a ghost in the house, with Wayans and Essence Atkins as the terrified couple. The absence of plot formula, and the relatively short (80-minute) runtime make this somewhat tolerable, but make no mistake: it’s garbage just the same.

Mainstream comedy took a turn towards nihilism around the time of There’s Something About Mary fifteen years ago, and the genre has yet to recover. That film had a sweetness to match its mean-spirited humor, but few films since have managed to understand the appeal. The humor in films like A Haunted House is akin to pointing a finger and laughing; after grossing 20 times its budget in the US alone, it may as well be pointing at us. 

Also opening: 

  • Parade (showtimes | IMDb), a Serbian comedy-drama from director Srdjan Dragojevic. Screening in Serbian with Czech subtitles.
  • Rust and Bone (showtimes | IMDb), an award-winning French drama starring Marion Cotillard and Matthias Schoenaerts. Screening in French with Czech subtitles.
  • Suicide Room (showtimes | IMDb), an animted Polish thriller. Screening in Polish with Czech subtitles.
  • Bez doteku (showtimes), the feature debut of 18-year-old director Matěj Chlupáček. Screening in Czech.

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