|Director||The Spierig Brothers|
Peter Spierig and Michael Spierig
|Release Date||February 2, 2018|
The Winchester Mansion is supposedly the most haunted house in America – and maybe the world. Each and every one of the victims of the Winchester Rifles has been drawn to that place, tormenting Sarah Winchester (Helen Mirren) with their unending grief. With startling, terrifying regularity, at the stroke of midnight, the spirits come to Mrs. Winchester and tell her to build another room onto the mansion, to keep building so that they can come to grips with their grief. To that end, from 1883 until Mrs. Winchester’s death in 1922, she ordered continuous construction, day and night, building staircases to nowhere, locked and boarded rooms, and mysterious winding hallways, hoping that she could keep those persistent spirits at bay.
Eventually, the Winchester Repeating Arms Company – of which Mrs. Winchester was a majority shareholder – orders an inquiry into her state of mind, so they call upon Dr. Eric Price (Jason Clarke) to investigate. Upon arriving at the Winchester Mansion, he begins seeing strange sights, hearing unusual sounds, and witnessing Mrs. Winchester’s grand-nephew Henry (Finn Scicluna-O’Prey) sleepwalking, sleep-jumping-off-of-scaffolding, and sleep-trying-to-shoot-his-great-aunt. But it’s all just in his imagination. Or is it?
This all sounds just slightly confusing? Am I confused about that?
No. This is a confusing movie that tries to all tie together and sometimes does so. But most of the time it doesn’t. Price grieves his wife’s recent death, overdoes it on laudanum and is somehow the best person to investigate Mrs. Winchester. She has somehow done Wikipedia-level research on him, knowing details that in 1906 would be shocking for an old recluse to know. Because of this, it’s increasingly unclear who Price’s employer is – and that’s never resolved. For some reason, though Price has been invited there, he must sneak around the house. Winchester can shut spirits away in their rooms (with 13 nails… spooky…), but those spirits can just push those nails out of place seemingly at will. Again and again.
How are the performances in Winchester?
I’m fairly sure that when Mrs. Winchester hires her workers, there’s a question on their applications that says, “Are you creepy-looking?” That’s the only requirement for working there. And the only requirement for getting the acting gig, too. That and being able to do a somewhat passable (but still deeply flawed) American accent.
Sarah Snook is nearly unwatchable as Winchester’s niece. Her onscreen son Henry has a couple of truly creepy moments, but he doesn’t stand out beyond looking eery, and Jason Clarke (whom I have enjoyed quite often before, particularly in Zero Dark Thirty) is horrendously miscast, and creeps through the house with all the subtlety of Elmer Fudd.
As expected, the great and formidable Dame Helen Mirren outshines everyone else in the film, though even she isn’t doing her best work here. But I’ll blame that much more on the writing than on her. This is, after all, the work of the writer-directors of maybe the worst film I’ve ever seen: Predestination.
Other than the amazing Helen Mirren, is there anything worthwhile here?
I did really appreciate the practical effects – they permeate the film. And they’re aggressive, taking a different tack than the James Wan-brand of horror. Rather than the slow build that Wan’s Conjure-verse takes, Winchester gets going quickly with the jumps and the atmosphere, but this means that there’s almost nowhere for it to go from there.
And then there are the few CG effects, which stick out like many sore thumbs (like the accents).
Sure. I’m a sucker for cheesy horror flicks, and there are worse examples out there. But do not mistake me. This is not a good movie.
Rent it during Halloween season as an appetizer – a cracker with Cheez Whiz smeared on top – to the feast of better haunted-house films out there. And there are many better haunted-house films. I’ll give you a list sometime.
Or, if you’re really looking for a taste of the Winchester Mystery House – a real place – watch Ghost Hunters. It’s immensely better.
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Tyler is a teacher, librarian and the Co-host of The Geek Card Check Podcast. He has been a Film Critic for Ready Steady Cut since 2018.