“Haunted Mansion” isn’t lacking in Easter eggs, star power, world-building, or a dozen other aspects of the ride it had to stuff into just about two hours of runtime. All of that works against the idea of any one actor stealing the show, but LaKeith Stanfield does exactly that. As a grieving widower and former astrophysicist, who once pioneered the development of a spectral camera that (hypothetically) allows one to photograph spirits from beyond the world of the living, Ben Matthias’ tragic backstory makes him a natural fit to become involved in the ghostly goings-on at the eponymous mansion. But it’s the subtle edge that Stanfield brings to the character that sets him apart from any other performance in the entire movie.
Over the course of the story, he plays Ben as his younger and more vibrant self with the whole world in front of him, an alcoholic wreck unable to cope with the death of his wife, a jaded and cynical skeptic who ventures to the mansion solely out of the promise of money, and, eventually, a more emotionally vulnerable man who finds himself open to the possibility of finding love again. In the middle of it all, Stanfield even gets to make a meal out of a highly-charged monologue, baring his soul with all the pain and grief he’s held inside. And despite committing the cardinal sin of telling without showing, this scene hits as unexpectedly hard as it does thanks entirely to the actor’s sheer commitment.
Packing all of this into a fun summer blockbuster that has to juggle so much beyond just Ben’s emotional arc is a tall task, but that’s precisely why you go out and cast someone as charismatic and convincing as Stanfield in the first place.