Ensconced in her sprawling California mansion, eccentric firearm heiress Sarah Winchester believes she is haunted by the souls of people killed by the Winchester repeating rifle.
Good horror is hard to get right. Over the last few years there’s been a spate of fresh and exciting new horror that has left me hopeful for the future of the genre, the It Follows‘, the Babadooks and the Get Outs, to name a few. But, for every genuinely frightening horror movie you have to pay the price with three absolutely turkeys. Sadly, Winchester is one of them.
While there are a few moments to be had, there’s a lot here to make you scoff – not least the cheap, cheap thrills the storytellers rely on throughout. They’re relentless and I can’t deny that they pay off in a film that otherwise fails to raise the hairs on the back of your neck.
During one scene, quite near the beginning of Doctor Price’s stay at the Winchester residence, the build up of one particular jump scare is so drawn out you can almost credit it with self-awareness, though there’s no way the film is that smart.
There are times I laughed at the hamminess of it all, even Helen Mirren can’t steer this ship. Her possession scene particularly is a stinker and some of the dialogue is so over the top, it feels like an episode of Inside No.9 (not a bad thing). Imagine Mirren in an episode of that, overacting her seasoned socks off and it would be perfection.
The mansion itself is intriguing – it feels like a fresher setting than the norm. I assumed from the trailer this would be set in a dusty old building rich with ghostly history but actually, the mansion is a new build and that’s the whole point of the story. The premise is actually bonkers and I would have dismissed it with a vicious eye roll had it not been loosely based on a true story – the mansion actually exists in real life and is a very popular tourist trap.
I have a lot of questions. For instance, why is the ghost of a murdered soldier made up to look like a zombie? Why didn’t we get to see more of the other ghosts, except in inexplicable passing – while all the focus was on murderer Benjamin Block, the most evil of all the spirits?
At times I got a whiff of Thi13een Ghosts, though I’m disappointed it didn’t see that through a bit more. I would have loved to have witnessed the other spirits getting up to their own hijinks.
And why honestly, while we’re here, didn’t we get a more sweeping tour of the massive house (beyond the brief one at the beginning)? Seems like a wasted opportunity to me.
All this isn’t to say I hated every minute. Jason Clarke’s druggy doctor is strangely sympathetic and attractive, particularly when he picks up an ax. His back story is unsurprising and a bit shit but I did enjoy a few of the more bantery scenes between him and Mrs Winchester. I imagine it would be hard not to have chemistry with the Grand Dame of Glamour and Grace.
I don’t give a shit about the ginger boy with the milky white eyes but his mother, uptight Marion Marriott is kind of cool, especially when facing her own demons/actual demons. All in all this is not so good but could potentially pass on an adequate rainy Sunday afternoon. You know, if you had absolutely nothing else to do.