“Winchester” is an Epic Misfire

I’m not very impressed by Michael and Peter Spierig’s new film, “Winchester.” First released in the U.S. on Feb. 2, it’s a supernatural horror film inspired by the mystery surrounding the Winchester mansion, one of the most famous real-life haunted houses in America.

The film tells the story of psychiatrist Dr. Eric Price (Jason Clarke), who journeys to the Winchester mansion to assess the sanity of Sarah Winchester (Helen Mirren), who claims to be haunted by the spirits of people who were killed by the rifles made by her husband’s company. Initially skeptical, the doctor realizes there may be some truth to the Winchester curse, and the existence of the paranormal. It’s a dramatic thriller which attempts to explore a fascinating real story, as well as themes of regret, redemption and the brutality of violence.

The issue with the film doesn’t lie in its quality. The production value, for one, is pretty good. Everything looks nice and fits the time period of the movie’s setting, and the effects are perfectly serviceable. The performances as well are consistently good, in particular Helen Mirren in the role of Sarah Winchester, giving life to their characters and giving some impressive emotional reactions to the scares in the movie.

However, that’s where the first problem with this movie rests—the scares. With the setup it has, this movie had the potential to be something truly special, burt really all it ends up being is a run-of-the-mill, mediocre horror flick that wants so desperately to be “The Conjuring” or “Insidious.” There are hardly any surprises found in the story, and I can count the “scary” moments on a single hand. It’s riddled with jump scares too (which, no, are not actual scary moments in a film) and even the actual scares are all done in the same way: a jolt of obnoxious music, a scary looking thing popping out on screen and a quick cut away. Every moment is beyond predictable and the film’s tricks get old fast (if they weren’t old already).

It also doesn’t help that the story and characters are just plain dull. As I said, this movie is just one of seemingly infinite paranormal horror films that come out every year now, and outside of the novelty of being based off of the Winchester mansion story, little is done to set this movie apart from all the others.

And while Clarke’s performance as Dr. Price is perfectly fine, the character makes for an uninteresting protagonist. He’s set up as a somewhat unlikeable person early on in the film, and while the writers do try to balance this out with a sympathetic backstory, it’s revealed way too late in the plot and in a somewhat haphazard way. Personally, I don’t think the character was truly unlikeable, but there’s very little reason to root for him throughout the film and it doesn’t make for a very interesting story.

While it was a noble effort trying to bring the story of the Winchester curse to life on the big screen, the fiction version pales in comparison to the real thing. It isn’t an offensive movie, but I think there are better ways to spend your time on a Friday night than seeing this. It shoots for a bullseye, but sadly misses its mark in the end.

Movie: “Winchester: The House that Ghosts Built”
Starring: Jason Clarke, Helen Mirren, Sarah Snook
Release: Feb. 2
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars