After two Scary Movies and two A Haunted Houses, Marlon Wayans has moved on from raunchy horror parody to lead a family Halloween comedy, though to call this one “comedy” might be overly generous. The Curse Of Bridge Hollow aims at the lucrative, somewhat under-served market for funny Halloween movies that can be tolerated by the easily scared. In the vein of the Goosebumps movies, Hubie Halloween, Ernest Scared Stupid, and Boo! A Madea Halloween, yet notably less entertaining than any of them, Bridge Hollow is kid-safe and parent-sedating.
There’s a germ of a good idea in here, though. What if all those Home Depot werewolves, 12-foot skeletons, and the like came to life in a neighborhood overrun with spooky seasonal displays? Thanks to a malevolent spirit named Stingy Jack, that’s what happens. Presumably, writers Todd Berger (The Happytime Murders) and Robert Rugan (Alice’s Misadventures In Wonderland) have, like the rest of us, been inside a Spirit Halloween store and imagined it was actually demon-possessed. In the moments that the movie conjures that feeling, Bridge Hollow briefly comes as magically alive as its creepy clown decorations. You’ll just want a fast-forward button to get through the other parts.
Wayans stars as Howard, a science-loving, safety-obsessed dad who moves his family from Brooklyn to Bridge Hollow, America’s safest town for 10 years running. It’s also a town that goes all out for Halloween, with elaborate themed yards and houses. Howard, of course, refuses to participate, because he dislikes the holiday for reasons that will become a plot point later. Emily (Kelly Rowland), his wife, hopes to start a new career baking terrible, rock-hard vegan desserts hated by everyone who tastes them.
Daughter Sydney (Stranger Things’ Priah Ferguson) is the main character here, though, making friends with the school’s local paranormal club and accidentally unleashing Stingy Jack from a cursed turnip. It’s up to her to stop the evil demon from making it Halloween every day, if she can just find a spell from a long-dead witch (Nia Vardalos) and convince her father to believe in things that can’t be explained by science.
Because the villains are possessed mannequins, characters can beat, dismember, and chainsaw them to bits in a family friendly movie, under the same logic that allowed He-Man to punch robots to death in his cartoons while never seriously harming any living opponent. Unfortunately, as cool as that may sound, it only occurs sporadically. The rest of the time, Ferguson flatly delivers painfully expository dialogue, just to have Wayans repeat the same plot points while arguing that they can’t possibly be true. No kid will leave confused by any aspects of the plot except, perhaps, how a digital ouija board app on an iPad can be fully trusted. Nobody should be too surprised that Wayans does what he always does where he screams and bugs his eyes out, and it’s no funnier this time.
A couple of self-referential jokes are real groaners—Wayans, referring to his character’s relationship with his wife played by a former Destiny’s Child member, says they’re like “Jay-Z and Beyonce,” and later when he beats up an evil clown, he exclaims, “Homie don’t play that!” Kids won’t get it, and adults won’t laugh. Only Rob Riggle, playing an extreme fan of The Walking Dead, seems to have gotten the memo to be funny.
Director Jeff Wadlow proves as uninspired with this material as he was with Kick-Ass 2. It’s not that the movie’s hateable, but that despite colorful settings (Sydney’s new school is pretty cool with the horror mazes), it’s just flat on the screen. Watching it feels like attending a Halloween party and never striking up a conversation with anyone; you can only look at the decorations for so long before getting bored.
If anyone were to take the movie super-seriously, the idea that it’s bad for a dad to explain away fears by applying science feels almost offensively dumb. But getting riled up at that premise would be as silly as accusing the movie of conjuring actual demons—especially since nobody involved seems to have put much thought into it, and nor should you. There are better things to do with one’s time, and better movies to watch. Cue this one up only if the kids are desperate for entertainment—and not very discerning.