Movie Review: ‘Winchester’


Director: The Spierig Brothers

Cast: Helen Mirrin, Jason Clarke, Sarah Snook, Angus Sampson, Bruce Spence

Plot: Drug and alcohol addled doctor Eric Price is hired by the Winchester Arms company to evaluate widower Sarah Winchester. In her grief over the loss of her family she has been sinking millions of dollars into the non-stop construction of an epic, sprawling mansion.

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Review: Firstly, the Winchester Mystery House is a real thing and damn interesting. Sarah Winchester started the house from an unfinished farmhouse and paid workers to add to it 24 hours a day without a master plan. The haphazard result had nonsensical elements like doors opening to open air and stairs ending with dead-ends. That’s the extent of the ‘actual events’ this movie purports to be based on. Tabloids spun out a story about Winchester being advised by a medium to build the house to appease the spirits of those killed by Winchester rifles.

This is the angle the movie runs with. Price (Clarke) is dispatched to prove Winchester (Mirren) is crazy so the company can take her control of the business away from her. There he meets Winchester’s niece Marian (Snook) and her son, the architect (Sampson) and the butler (Spence). Winchester explains that spirits design the rooms through her, recreating the rooms they died in so they can find peace. There’s a bunch of rules about 13 nails being needed to seal a spirit in a room and them only appearing when the bell rings at midnight, but it’s all kinda nonsense. 

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Through the course of the story we have possessed children, Price’s grief over his dead wife, Marian grieving over her dead husband, some story about a particularly evil spirit and a few other threads, none of which really engage on any level. Mostly it’s all there for the characters to walk around the house while spooky looking ghosts jump out and shriek. There’s no suspense, no atmosphere, just a series of jump scares tied together by a silly ending.

The unique selling point is, of course, the house itself. Sadly it is gravely underused. When Price arrives at the house he’s warned that it’s easy to get lost…but that never happens. Not even for a chase scene. We see unusual architecture, like missing ceilings and unusually placed doors, but there never get used in the film. All up the entire story takes place in about five rooms. It’s like Split, which kept banging on about him having 20-something personalities but it might as well have been five since that’s all we saw. We don’t even learn the stories about the different ghosts inhabiting the place, which would have been good opportunity for some spooky stories.

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By the end of the film the only mystery is how they roped Helen Mirren into the project. It’s a flat film, offering nothing but cheap jump scares that squanders its unique setting and lacks any visual style. It’s a serious step down from previous Speirig efforts like Predestination and that one where the guy punches a zombie fish.

Rating: TWO out of TEN 

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