“Winchester” is a film bogged down with horror cliches that fall anywhere from the primitively developed eerie child to the skeptical intellectual who insists there’s an explanation for everything.
Inspired by true events, the movie takes place in early 1900s California as Sarah Winchester, portrayed by Helen Mirren, the majority owner of the Winchester Repeating Arms company, is given a psychiatric evaluation by Dr. Eric Price, played by Jason Clarke, in her own home—a mansion constantly under construction at her command so she can temporarily house hundreds of ghosts and phantoms killed by a Winchester rifle until they make peace with their death.
Mirren, an Oscar winner in 2007, and Clarke have sufficient chemistry on screen. They play well off of each other, trying to dig into the other’s past while creating non-malicious power struggles. The two—and sometimes along with Sarah Winchester’s niece played by Sarah Snook—explore themes of loss and acceptance in a story that infrequently hits emotional high notes.
Mirren and Clarke could have easily given over-the-top portrayals of their characters, but they keep their respective roles as grounded as they can. None of the faults in “Winchester” should fall on their shoulders.
The Winchester manor acts as its own character and may be the most alluring thing in the entire film. The real life, unfinished mansion is a fascinating setting offering up multiple striking production designs.
The house also has a maze-like quality to it which makes the viewer feel disoriented at times, never truly knowing where they’re at, like Price.
However, uncommon quality emotional scenes and a nice set aren’t enough to make up for the greatest sin of “Winchester.” It’s a horror film that’s just not scary.
A creepy atmosphere could have been established if incessant jump scares didn’t continuously drain the tension the film tries to build up. Instead, anything frightening is diminished by half-hearted thrills caused by a ghost or a butler instantly appearing in the frame accompanied by a loud noise.
No thrill truly feels earned, which is a shame because “Winchester” has a quasi-interesting story to tell.
“Winchester” very well could have been compelling, but there is wasted potential to be found in nearly every scene. There’s no need to rush to the theater for this film.