The supernatural horror movie inchester squanders its riches in a predictable and often boring 99-minute film. The lost opportunities are many, but the biggest waste is its depiction of the fascinating historical character it is based on — Sarah Winchester, who in 1881 inherited the Winchester Repeating Arms Company (yes that Winchester), making her one of the richest people in the world.
With the loss of her only child many years back, and the death of her husband William Wirt Winchester — plus the guilt of a massive fortune and daily income derived from the profits of a weapons company — Sarah, it is claimed by some, lost her mental health. But legend has it that she truly saw the ghosts of the people who had been killed by Winchester rifles. Hence, she was driven to construct a nonsensical house with rooms and staircases that led nowhere, simply so that the ghosts that haunted her could be satiated.
Certainly, her story could have made for an absorbing film, especially if the script had been more of a character study that explored Sarah’s psyche and left the supernatural elements more ambiguous, at least initially. That way the audience would have been left guessing as to whether Sarah was simply delusional or if the ghosts actually existed, resulting in a more effective buildup to the meat of the narrative, regardless of the final direction chosen by the filmmakers.
Not only is Winchester a misfire but it is loaded with blanks
Unfortunately, Winchester carries none of the nuance in its storytelling it so desperately needed. Within the opening few scenes, it presents us with some hammy horror sequences that leave no doubt that it is indeed a ghost film. What’s more, the set design isn’t particularly impressive either, with the infamous house lacking any of the eeriness the Spierig brothers were so obviously shooting for.
Then there are the special effects, which seem like they were drawn up from the budget of a straight-to-DVD film. To be honest, some of the ghosts look laughably bad. But the most unforgivable sin committed by Winchester is in its rudimentary frights, a majority of which are cheesy jump-scares — the sort all good horror films avoid for fear of coming across as cheap.
I must admit that I was intrigued by Winchester, primarily because I was interested in seeing acting legend Helen Mirren (Sarah Winchester) in a role as different as this. And while she, in typical Helen Mirren fashion, grabs the role and shakes it earnestly with both hands, she doesn’t come across as entirely convincing. This is mainly due to how criminally one-dimensional her character is and how mundane the screenplay is by Tom Vaughan and the above-mentioned directors, but also because of how little chemistry she has with the star of the film, Jason Clarke (Eric Price). Clarke isn’t able to do much with his cookie-cutter role of a skeptical doctor who, as is often the case in haunted house films, is tasked with solving a ghost mystery that also plagues his family.
Not only is Winchester a misfire, but it is loaded with blanks. It could have been an engaging drama but the moment the filmmakers decided to craft a by-the-numbers horror film, they shot themselves in the foot.
Rated PG-13 for violence, disturbing images, drug content, some sexual material and thematic elements
Published in Dawn, ICON, February 11th, 2018