Despite An Intriguing Premise, Winchester Is An Exercise in Forgettable Mediocrity
Director: Michal and Peter Spierig
Starring: Helen Mirren, Jason Clarke, Sarah Snook, Eamon Farren, Bruce Spence, Laura Brent and Angus Sampson
Running Time: 1 Hr., 39 Mins.
Helen Mirren is arguably one of the finest actors on the planet right now. And to my knowledge she has never dipped a toe into cinema’s dark horror waters. So when I heard she was going to be in Winchester (inspired by real life heiress Sarah Winchester and her legendary house), you could say my interest was peaked. When I saw the trailers, I found myself eagerly anticipating a movie I hadn’t heard of a month before.
What a cruel, bitter mistress disappointment is.
Psychiatrist Eric Price (Jason Clarke) is hired by the Winchester Repeating Rifle Company to assess the mental well being of Sarah Winchester (Helen Mirren), the reclusive widow of the company’s founder and its majority stock owner. After losing her husband and daughter, Winchester left the east coast for san Jose and has spent more than twenty years building one of the most enigmatic structures in the country.
Workers toil day and night on Winchester’s mysterious mansion, building rooms only to sometimes demolish them upon completion. When Price (who is haunted by his own demons) arrives, he discovers that Winchester’s chose him as part of a plan to protect her house and family from a curse she fears haunts her family. Everything Price believes is soon challenged and the two soon find themselves racing to save Winchester’s niece (Sarah Snook) and great-nephew from vengeful, unseen forces.
Winchester has some intriguing ideas, but is never executes them properly. It is full of standard jump scares and the plot varies from bland to mediocre. If you only pay half attention for the first ten minutes you can pretty much predict everything the rest of the movie throws at you. Despite a few novel hiccups, Winchester holds no surprises.
Perhaps its greatest flaw is that it isn’t even self aware enough to realize it isn’t that sophisticated. It tries really hard to be smart, and probably thinks it is. But while it isn’t stupid (though it indulges heavily in the tried and true horror trope of smart people doing stupid things), it sits more than a few rows from the head of the class.
It’s unusual seeing Mirren in a role like this. Sarah starts the film as a smart, strong matriarch. Sarah Winchester isn’t easily duped and is even tougher to scare. She’s tougher than nails and twice as sharp; just the kind who could hold her own against the shadowy forces of the unknown. But that character disappears halfway through Winchester, replaced by a visibly uncertain, easily shaken and definitely paler character. It’s as though the more aware Dr. Price becomes, the weaker Sarah (who knows the answer to pretty much every question through the entire movie) becomes and is pushed into the background. It isn’t a good fit on Mirren.
Despite its premise and better than average cast, there’s nothing remarkable about Winchester. Everything about is pretty . . . vanilla (at least as vanilla as supernatural horror goes). If anything it may persuade you to investigate the actual Sarah Winchester (who died in 1922) and her legendary house, which still millions of curious tourists every year. But other than that Winchester is simply forgettable.