Director: The Spierig Brothers
Starring: Helen Mirren, Jason Clarke, Sarah Snook, Finn Scicluna-O'Prey
What a great story to base a horror-mystery movie on.
The Winchester Mansion – not based in a city in Hampshire, but San Jose, California – was owned by firearms magnate William Wirt Winchester in the 1800s, and upon his death, the mansion fell into the hands of his wife Sarah. She believed the house to be haunted by the spectres of those killed by the guns manufactured by the family, and constantly reconstructs it to keep the ghouls at bay and appease their unfulfilled souls.
What a great shame this horror-mystery is terrible.
Fast forward to 1906, with the mansion constantly under construction and rumours that Sarah Winchester’s (Mirren) mind may not be fully stable, the Winchester board of directors seek the talents of doctor/shrink Eric Price (Clarke) to assess her suitability to run the company. Sarah’s niece Marion (Snook) and her son Henry (O’Prey) already live in the mansion and they are sceptical of Price’s presence but when things start to go bump in the night, visions appear and Henry starts to act up (and we don’t mean wetting the bed or midnight feasts), Price and the family begin to realise that maybe Sarah’s fanciful tales weren’t so fanciful after all.
Oh, Winchester. What should have been a tense, atmospheric mystery movie peppered with horror elements ended up being a watered-down, messy snoozefest complete with a Damien-lite bowl cut kid lazily possessed by an unconvincing spirit. The most frustrating element is that there is clearly a very good story to be had here, but instead, the writers decided to plug the gaps with every horror cliché known to man:
Writer One: “Damn, we’re out of ideas after fifteen minutes…”
Writer Two: “Erm…quick, make the house shake!!”
One: “Still out of ideas over here!”
Two: “Just use the slowly descending into the dark basement trope!!”
One: “Hey, still floundering here!”
Two: “OK, OK launch every telegraphed jumpscare you can think of!!”
…and so on.
Lousy dialogue, choppy editing and a frankly terrible anti-gun statement send this movie to the grave. Insulting Queen Elizabeth II’s judgement by casting the marvellous Helen Mirren in this ghastly movie, however, is the nail that sealed the coffin.
Mirren clearly tries her best with the scraps she is thrown and performs admirably, but no one could have saved the material. Jason Clarke, too, does what he can to hold the movie up, though I wasn’t sure if his sweaty, frantic panic during the movie was acting or his realisation that he couldn’t get out of his contract for this movie. The dialogue lends no assistance whatsoever and a sloppy production with naff dialogue leaves the actors with no hope. All major moments or plot points are crisply delivered to the audience long before they happen onscreen due to the dumbed-down script and you’ll be left with no surprises as the movie limps on and on.
Also, Clarke smashes a hole no larger than 1 ft x 6in wide through a ceiling yet somehow manages to fit through it with ease in the next shot. Sigh.
The mansion looked like a poorly-CGI'd Disney house/castle and annoyingly, the interior was wasted. Where The Shining used its hotel to superb effect, essentially making a character out of it, Winchester barely utilises an utter maze of a house and the cinematography is lost under gloomy filters and constant angled and zoomed camerawork. It’s another example of a huge opportunity passed over.
With shackled actors, a poor script, a messy story and eye-rolling clichés, surely the movie must have carried some sort of meaningful message to cut through the tedium? Well, no. Winchester spends its entire runtime denouncing firearms until it decides that the guns are a great way to stop someone else with a gun. What a waste.
Despite the amount of promise on offer, the biggest fright to be found was the movie itself. Winchester is entirely forgettable and I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to getting heavy-lidded during the movie. There’s not a lot of redeemable elements to be found here and as a Knight of the Realm, I’d hope Dame Helen Mirren would request to have this movie executed from memory.
February 22nd 2018