Winchester touts itself to be a ‘historical horror film’, basing itself on the notorious Winchester puzzle house and its eccentric creator Sarah Winchester, played by Dame Helen Mirren. The film picks up interestingly, with a cold opening involving a woman and her son staying at the titular house. The setup is creepy, with the cliche of a possessed child thrown in for good measure before we get into the meat of things.
Dr Eric Price, played by Jason Clark of ‘Child 44’ and ‘Terminator Genisys’ , sits partaking in hallucinogenics whilst in the company of three call girls. After showing off some party tricks and bidding them farewell, he is visited and called to evaluate the mental health of Sarah Winchester by the board of directors at the Winchester repeating arms company.
The film continues to dither along, showing that the house is constantly under construction, that everyone respects Mrs Winchester and so on and so forth. Sarah Snook is introduced as the woman from the cold open, playing the recently widowed niece of Mrs Winchester. The recreation of the Winchester house is mostly CGI from the outside, and ornately designed wooden sets within, mirroring the real life house and its bizarre layout wonderfully.
For the uninitiated the Winchester puzzle house is a house designed by the real life Sarah Winchester, to trap the ghosts she believed to haunt her, having being married to the man who developed the revolutionary Winchester repeating rifle. Believing those killed by Winchester rifle would haunt her forever, she built the house non-stop till her death in 1922.
The film leads on to a series of continual jump scares, choosing to build tension and relieve it with nothing more than a ‘boo’. Like so many horror films of today Winchester seems to think that audiences want to have a quick jolt from nowhere to scare them. The film does just that for the next hour.
Slowly progressing and building Sarah Winchester to be a woman with an obsession to right her husband’s wrongs, the film wastes the talent of Helen Mirren spectacularly. Choosing to give her absurd lines about using ’13 nails to seal a ghost in a room’, or that the ghosts communicate to her that ‘they need the room they died in to be reconstructed’. It all comes out as complete, hammy nonsense.
Jason Clark does his best with what he’s given, remaining a sceptic to the bitter end and doing the best with what he has. Despite this he’s given a ridiculous plot line involving him being ‘killed’ by a Winchester rifle in a near death experience. I won’t go into details, simply that it’s as equally ridiculous as Helen Mirren’s lines on ghost busting.
The third act of the film is sheer insanity, sending the film off the rails as Mirren and Clark face down ‘the most powerful and evil ghost ever’, a man who wanted revenge on the Winchester’s for personal reasons who is shown to continually possess Sarah Snook’s young son.
After a climax involving floating rifles and invisible ghosts it’s all over. Wrapping up simply with and tying off the strange plot twists in the space of around 10 minutes.
A cliched horror ending of nails popping out the sealed doors and an end card describing the real Sarah Winchester closes the film out.
Overall the film wastes its excellent talent, peppers in twists that needn’t be there, and commits the cardinal sin of modern horror by overusing jump scares. I honestly felt my time had been wasted after watching this snooze of a film.