Movie Review: A Haunted House is 2013’s first scary movie

The horror movie genre of the last few years could probably use a spoofing. The cavalcade of found footage horror and unnecessary remakes are more than deserving of a good roast. Unfortunately, the spoof genre has seen better days as well. The era of Airplane!, Hot Shots!, and Naked Gun is long gone. Today’s spoof films tend towards quick and dirty assessments of pop culture in replace of actual observational humor. The bar has been set pretty low for quite some time.

If there’s one thing A Haunted House succeeds at, it’s lowering that bar even further. It takes aim at a pretty big target (the Paranormal Activity series), and pretty much does exactly what all modern spoof movies seem to do: emulate the source material but add in a fart joke or, even worse, toss in a little gay-bashing.

A Haunted House

I’m sure Marlon Wayans is a funny guy in real life. The exaggerated antics between his character Malcolm and his girlfriend Kisha (played by Essence Atkins) suggest that he probably cracks up his loved ones. An audience, though? Personally his brand of silly left me unfazed.

Beyond the handful of moments where I genuinely laughed at A Haunted House (some of which I’d already seen in the trailer), I spent most of my viewing time as stoic as if I were watching a deadly serious drama. When it did get a reaction out of me, it was more often disgust than smiles.

The joke formula here goes a bit like this:
1) Establish that a joke is happening.
2) When the audience doesn’t react, tell the joke HARDER.
3) Now that you squeezed a smile and a few chuckles out of them, take it way too far.
4) Hope no one walks out of the theater.

A Haunted House

I know I was tempted to depart on more than one occasion. Sometimes it was just due to the futility with which the script repeats its humor. Yes, we get it, the neighbors are swingers. Did we really need multiple scenes throughout the film dedicated to this running gag?

Worse, A Haunted House descends into some particularly grimey territory when it introduces the flamboyantly gay psychic who has powers “all over his body.” I’m not so touchy that a joke or two about gayness is going to sound the alarm, but by the twelfth time he went for Marlon Wayans' crotch I really had to wonder what they were going for.

A Haunted House

I don’t doubt that someone could spoof Paranormal Activity and do it right, but it was never going to happen here. What’s worse is that the next in the Scary Movie series (itself a Wayans brothers’ joint) seems to be treading a lot of the same ground. At this point, if the competition is a race to the bottom, than A Haunted House has a good head start.