Quick Hit: Slow, misguided, and never quite finds the point.
The Winchester mansion in San Jose, CA is one of those places in American history that just doesn’t quite add up. Sarah Winchester, heir to the Winchester Rifle fortune and company, constructed a huge home by consistently adding on to the sprawling mansion, taking an eight room house and making it seven stories. There is no discernable reason for her to do this, and so therefore, ghosts come into the American legend of the story – particularly those affected by the Winchester family’s most famous product. I’m honestly surprised it took so long for a story to get made about this, because it’s perfect horror movie fodder.
However, the execution by The Spierig Brothers, who wrote and directed the film, leaves so much to be desired that it’s practically laughable. Given the premise for an excellent story, they instead drape the film in mediocrity. The first example of this is the plot – Jason Clarke plays Dr. Eric Price, who has been submitted to the mansion in order to psychologically evaluate the Ms. Sarah Winchester. He has his own past story, which I won’t spoil here, but he also has an addiction to laudanum, which is bad, mmmmkay. Honestly, though I liked the character, his inclusion in the movie definitely serves as a detractor. It’s not as if Helen freaking Mirren couldn’t carry the movie herself, and she proves that consistently in every interaction with other performers. It instead gives the movie a bit of a shoulder shrug with a “meh” feeling, as if they couldn’t figure out how to write a story and end it, and instead just decided to throw a white guy with a gun in it to fix all the problems.
That’s one other thing I think tanked this movie, both critically and financially. Releasing a movie about gun toting ghosts is probably the last thing we need at a moment when gun violence and gun control is such a hot topic – particularly when the movie doesn’t really fall on either side. I’ve stated before I don’t enjoy preachy movies, but I would have preferred that over the bland “well there’s points to both sides guyyyyyyysssss”.
The scares, if you can call it that, all arise from that most hated of scares – the jump scare. But whereas sometimes these can be effective, instead we have the typical offenders – angles that change our sight lines, like doors and mirrors. There’s nothing new here, which is a bit upsetting considering the movie does a pretty decent job at setting up the labyrinthine nature of the Winchester mansion. There’s a huge gothic influence here, particularly once the story gets going, and a much more Poe inspired movie could have made better work of the scenery. Instead, we get ghosts popping up behind people.
And why oh why did we need to see the outside of the home… via CGI? Just don’t show it – that would be better than poorly animating it.
I’m giving Winchester a “D”.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"