Winchester is one of those movies that cries out for a better script. The Australian twin brothers Michael and Peter Spierig (Daybreakers, Jigsaw) have made better horror flicks than this drab, rote mess. Helen Mirren delivers a powerful performance as Sarah Winchester, the heiress to the Winchester Repeating Arms fortune. But her presence isn’t enough to save this dreary tale of ghosts and cults.
The Winchester Mystery House is a creepy setting with a rich history that could have made for a provocative film. But the Spierig brothers don’t go that far, using the house as a backdrop for a haphazard mythology that offers only lame jump scares and a contradictory finale.
Mirren gives a captivating performance as the spectral Sarah Winchester, whose twisted beliefs give the movie a strong core, but she can’t elevate it enough to compensate for a weak script and the predictable direction. She’s joined by a talented cast, including Angus Sampson and Sara Snook from Predestination and the Jigsaw franchise. Yet even they can’t elevate the drecky script, which is full of every haunted-house cliche in search of an excuse to use loud jump scares. The resulting movie is a muddled mess that can’t decide whether it wants to be a horror funhouse or a Gothic period piece, and ends up being neither. A disappointing waste of a good cast and an interesting location.
The movie aims to be more than just another ghost story. It wants to be a thriller about gun violence and the evil spirits that it invokes. However, co-directors Michael and Peter Spierig lack the creativity to give their characters much dimensionality. They let the house itself do most of the talking, and even that is depressingly dull.
The script gives lip service to Sarah Winchester’s history, but the Spierig brothers fail to add any eloquence or mystery. Instead, the film available on gomovies app relies on clunky horror conventions like mirrors that shift and blood-dripping paintings to scare viewers.
It also indulges in tired cliches like jump scares that are as predictable as they are loud and cheap. It’s hard to believe that this is the work of directors who made the brilliant time travel drama Predestination and last year’s Saw reboot Jigsaw. Helen Mirren, Jason Clarke and Angus Sampson are the best actors in Winchester, but they’re given very little to work with.
Whether the Spierig brothers had more ambition for this film than a straight-up gothic ghost story or if they simply ran out of ideas the end result is a film that doesn’t deliver on its promises. It’s a ghost movie that settles for cheap, cliched jump scares rather than trying to explore the nature of cruelty and grief through the supposedly haunted rooms of Sarah Winchester’s home.
It’s a shame because Winchester could have actually been a really interesting horror film. It has a unique setting, a real life story that cries out to be a drama and Helen Mirren is a fantastic actress. It also tackles important, even if ludicrous, questions about profiting off of the deaths of others and how that might lead to spiritual haunting. If the film had focused more on those themes and less on creating a maze of hallways that lead to nothing it might have been more worthy of its current Tomatometer score of 10%.
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With Sarah’s mental state in question, the Winchester board enlists a psychiatrist (the potato-esque Jason Clarke) to visit her and assess her sanity. Entering her eerie abode, where every twitch is underlined with jump-scare music and every corner seems to conceal a specter, Price is soon plagued by his own hallucinations and a growing suspicion that Sarah’s not the kind of woman he thought she was.
Winchester isn’t a terrible movie, but it’s not as good as it could have been. It’s stuck between two worlds – a horror film that wants to be a fun house of jump scares and a period piece that’s meant to evoke a sense of history and a time of change. And in doing so, it suffers from a lack of imagination that would be embarrassing for filmmakers operating in the most imaginative genre in cinema. It’s also boring. And that’s a sin against a ghost story. The Tomatometer currently sits at a dismal 8%.