Winchester (2018)

  • Time: 99 min
  • Genre: Biography | Fantasy | Horror
  • Director: Michael Spierig, Peter Spierig
  • Cast: Helen Mirren, Jason Clarke, Sarah Snook


Inspired by true events. On an isolated stretch of land 50 miles outside of San Francisco sits the most haunted house in the world. Built by Sarah Winchester, (Academy Award®-winner Helen Mirren) heiress to the Winchester fortune, it is a house that knows no end. Constructed in an incessant twenty-four hour a day, seven day a week mania for decades, it stands seven stories tall and contains hundreds of rooms. To the outsider it looks like a monstrous monument to a disturbed woman’s madness. But Sarah is not building for herself, for her niece (Sarah Snook) or for the brilliant Doctor Eric Price (Jason Clarke) whom she has summoned to the house. She is building a prison, an asylum for hundreds of vengeful ghosts, and the most terrifying among them have a score to settle with the Winchesters.

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  • The setting is San Jose, CA in 1906. A widow named Sarah Winchester believes she’s being haunted by ghosts in her swank, reconstructed mansion. Fearing that she is mentally ill, a doctor named Eric Pence is sent in to give her a psychiatric evaluation. Oh and there’s a creepy kid relative that’s sometimes being controlled by evil spirits. Oscar winner Helen Mirren plays the wealthy Sarah while Zero Dark Thirty’s Jason Clarke plays the unissued Pence. That’s the gist of Winchester, my latest review.

    Winchester has the excitement level of an episode of Ghost Adventures (ugh). It’s not very lucid as a true story, it contains familiar fright tropes, and it’s rather blase in the overall approach. Basically Winchester is ninety-nine minutes of humdrum horror fare. The Spierig Brothers (twins Peter and Michael) dig to try to recreate the dimmed corridors of something like 2001’s The Others. They direct Winchester with fair haunted house lighting, a slight sense atmospheric dread, and a determined eye for setting up shots. Don’t confuse them with the Coen brothers though. Their film although well cast, throbs with a held back, frivolous PG-13 rating. It never quite lifts off.

    Winchester while old-fashioned in its ghostly look, relies heavily on weak jump scares (with tired, pouncing music) and systematic jolts. The pic sometimes comes off as funny rather than frightening. It doesn’t help that lead Mirren chews scenery while constantly dressed in widowed, black cloak. Her jittery character is habitually scripted. She’s more like a blatant horror parody than anything else.

    All in all, Winchester is pretty vapid as its supernatural happenings scarcely go bump bump in the night. This vehicle probably could’ve benefited from a surprise ending made to revitalize the pulse of your average moviegoer. Where the greatest demonic possession flicks announce themselves as cinematic prime rib, Winchester is more like your average skirt steak at Ponderosa. The Exorcist it ain’t. Rating: 2 stars.

    Rating: 2 out of 4 stars

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