Directed by Michael Spierig and Peter Spierig.
Starring Helen Mirren, Jason Clarke, Sarah Snook, Laura Brent, Eamon Farren, Tyler Coppin, Alice Chaston, Finn Scicluna-O’Prey, Angus Sampson, and Emm Wiseman.
Eccentric firearm heiress believes she is haunted by the souls of people killed by the Winchester repeating rifle.
There’s a brief moment in Winchester (directed by the Spierig Brothers, who at this point are a boulder rolling down a hill in terms of the quality of their films going from the twisty science fiction mind trip Predestination, to the commercially and critically unsuccessful reboot of deadly Saw games with Jigsaw, and now this blunder of a supernatural thriller) where the drug addicted Dr. Eric Price (Jason Clarke) places his head sideways up against an antiquated device composed of holes in the wall intended to take sound and travel it through to designated rooms of the infamous labyrinthine haunted house. An object emerges from the insert; there is no obnoxiously loud audible queue or disorienting visual jolts, rendering it a fairly chilling scare.
It also might be quite literally the only eerie moment to be found within Winchester, a gothic thriller with far too many subplots going on at once, actors that don’t even know how to present their character or deliver various lines without appearing hilariously ridiculous (there are a few scenes where Helen Mirren’s Sarah Winchester communicates with spirits covered in a black veil while scribbling things down, a scene far more stupid and unbelievable than anything in Red or her glorified cameo in The Fate of the Furious), and ghosts annoyingly popping out from every direction and room Eric enters as if the Spierig Brothers had discovered the tactic immediately prior to filming.
Thankfully, the main attraction of the Winchester house is competently crafted; there are a number of aerial shots to express just how large the mansion actually is. It’s important to note that the house is only seven floors high, meaning that the 100+ rooms designed for a specific purpose that I will not spoil (although I will say that the film has a unique dynamic where the protagonist is trying to lock spirits in rather than set them free or cleanse the hell) are sprawled out on the same plane, allowing for plentiful odd detours and unorthodox architectural decisions. The standard early ghost story moments of the protagonist getting acquainted with the mass structure are actually fun to watch thanks to this, even though it could have done with about 37 fewer apparitions crowding the screen. Most of the jump scares are telegraphed to frustration, so it’s not even like there’s something to spill your popcorn over or a reason to punch the person next to you on the shoulder.
The other attention-grabbing aspect of the Winchester house is that it is forever in a state of construction, 24 hours a day and seven days a week. This begs the question, just why is Sarah Winchester ordering all of this to be done and is she even mentally stable in the wake of losing her husband yet still in place in control of the weapons manufacturer that majorly assisted in defeating the Confederate Army. Who better to investigate this than a doctor high on opiates and still grieving over the death of his wife? Nevertheless, it quickly turns out that Eric Price was purposely chosen for the job with undisclosed reasons; naturally, all of the plot threads will come together and make sense, but they are so mishandled and disinteresting that little of it registers as spooky or clever. Quickly, it should be mentioned that jokes aside, Eric is sober throughout his investigation, although that only makes it more mindnumbing watching him questioning all the paranormal stuff he is subjected to and witnesses.
Pinpointing where everything comes crumbling down isn’t difficult at all; for some inexplicable reason, a film titled Winchester is more about the drug-addicted doctor then either Sarah Winchester or the haunted mansion itself. Occasionally, it will be brought up how Sarah feels about the guns she is indirectly responsible for creating being used as tools of death, but that guilt is only mentioned in passing and never delved into. Honestly, there probably is room to create a complex character study of Sarah Winchester, but instead, the experience is only concerned with giving screen time to a bullet containing sentimental value engraved “together forever”. Yes, a bullet is basically more important than Sarah Winchester. Truth be told, this depressing tidbit is likely why Helen Mirren seems to not give a damn regarding her performance.
Nevertheless, credit will be given where credit is due; the production design on Winchester appears to be a labor of love with much thought put into the aesthetics and internal layout of the mansion. It’s a shame that nothing particularly frightening goes on there, leaving audiences with a fragmented narrative filled with half-realized ideas that, maybe with another rewrite of the script, could have developed into something of more substance. Winchester is another one of those Q1 horror duds moviegoers are now accustomed to receiving at the time, but it’s more disappointing than an outright failure of a project.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com