Netflix's We Have a Ghost is a funny and charming retelling of a familiar story

david harbour , anthony mackie , jahi winston, we have a ghost
Is Netflix's We Have a Ghost worth a watch?Netflix

We Have a Ghost bears a striking resemblance to the classic ET: The Extra-Terrestrial, but those skeptical about retelling the familiar story can rest easy. Netflix's family-friendly film is a heartfelt and endearing version of the tale.

In We Have a Ghost, father Frank (Anthony Mackie) moves his family to a new house in the Illinois suburbs but his youngest son Kevin (Jahi Di'Allo Winston), an introverted misfit in his own family, soon discovers a ghost living in their attic. Ernest (David Harbour) seems harmless, and after Frank captures Ernest on video, the family become internet famous.

However, as Kevin and his friend Joy (Isabella Russo) help Ernest discover the truth about Ernest's past – and his death – they all become a target of the CIA's ghostbusting agent (Tig Notaro). The parallels to ET are obvious – or perhaps to Casper, given Ernest's spectral form.

jahi diallo, isabella russo, david harbour, we have a ghost

However, We Have a Ghost does a solid job of not retreading every emotional beat that we've seen before. Instead, it spends time letting us get to know Kevin and his family – his tenuously loving relationship with his older brother Fulton (Niles Fitch) and his mother Erica Ash, as well as his neighbour Joy.

We get snippets of the family's uneven past without maudlin montages set to morosely manipulative music. Ernest's comedy is just on the right side of slapstick to be sweet and funny, not annoying.

In particular, it helps that Winston brings a nuance of pathos and anger to Kevin, blending it into the perfect embodiment of that strange combination of teenage malaise and passion that makes him unpredictable and brave.

erica ash niles fitch , jahi winston,we have a ghost

As Ernest, Harbour is fun to watch – the character itself, a ghost with amnesia, means there isn't much to empathise with but it is Ernest's relationship to Kevin, and how it impacts the rest of the family that matters.

There is the requisite shoe-horning-in of teenage 'woke' dialogue, via Russo's Joy, but it's on the right side of sufferable and you get the sense that it is something Joy might naturally say. For anyone navigating grief, or a damaged father/child relationship, We Have a Ghost will probably make you cry but unlike Ghostbusters, the movie actually earns its more muted emotional payoff.

anthony mackie , jennifer coolidge, we have a ghost

And then there's the It woman of the century, Jennifer Coolidge, in a cameo role as a TV medium. She only has a few moments of screen time, but proves once again that she is a scene-stealer.

We Have a Ghost is based on a short story called Ernest, and while short stories stretched to feature-length films often feel thin, the movie adaptation of this story manages to fill its just-over-two-hour runtime. As with so many movies that dabble in the paranormal, the key is not to think too critically about the 'plot holes' and suspension of disbelief necessary to make the film work – it simply does.

While We Have a Ghost may not soar to the heights of ET in the cultural zeitgeist, it's watchable and entertaining and should have a place in the canon of teens with cute sidekicks who accomplish incredible things.

We Have a Ghost is out now on Netflix.

You Might Also Like