By Ceara Kelly, Contributor
The real story of the Winchester house is a fascinating one that promised an equally compelling and thrilling movie. Unfortunately, Winchester fails to live up to any of those expectations, despite having the star power of Helen Mirren. The poorly lit set managed to snuff out even her talents, leaving the audience to wonder how she was ever convinced to participate in such a film, or how it managed to trick them into thinking this movie would be anything but mediocre.
The real Winchester Home in San Jose, California is dubbed the most haunted house in America. Sarah Winchester supposedly built it to somehow appease the spirits of those killed by Winchester rifles. According to the film, she also spoke to ghosts to receive floor plans of the rooms they died in so she could build them and hopefully put the spirits to rest. If they died outside, tough luck; they’re stuck haunting whatever parking lot they were shot in. Still, Sarah keeps construction on the home going 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, desperate to protect her family from the spirits attempting to end the Winchester line.
Do we follow the enigmatic Sarah Winchester through this movie as she flees her family’s guilt and literal ghosts? No, instead the viewer gets to watch an hour and a half of a drug-addicted Dr. Eric Price (played by Jason Clarke) performing her psych assessment while losing his mind on morphine and occasionally hitting on her niece, whose personality resembles that of a wet piece of cardboard. A dead wife fails to give him any personality and just adds another check to the endless list of clichés this movie is made of.
The only reason Winchester can be counted as a horror film is its dependence on the tropes of the genre. Not once is there an honest scare; the viewers would get hint after hint, warning them of the oncoming “surprise”. There might as well have been a flashing arrow on the screen and a sign that read “GHOST HERE!” When the scariest part of the movie was a woman in the audience dropping her keys, you can’t really call it a horror.
The one saving grace of the film is the visuals. Movies often use computer generated effects as a crutch; Winchester reminded the audience that a good makeup artist and a few stunt coordinators can go just as far as some fancy CGI. The fantastic sets, costumes, and makeup made even the dullest scenes at least mildly entertaining. The only drawback is that the shots of the exterior of the Victorian maze were computer generated, and you can tell. The mansion looked like a dollhouse on a green screen, and the viewer gets reminded of it after nearly every scene, when a ten second shot of the home at the exact same angle is shown again and again.
With the movie depending so heavily on the violent murders of innocents, the Spierig brothers decided it would be a great idea to shoehorn in a gun control debate. While the topic is relevant, a movie that implies the 1906 San Francisco earthquake was caused by ghosts isn’t the place to be having it. Especially when you come dangerously close to literally saying “guns don’t kill people; people kill people,” and spend maybe three minutes total on the subject. Despite having one of the most interesting stories and strangely beautiful locations in history as its subject, Winchester manages to fall flat and leave its audience wondering why this story is infamous in the first place.
Watch the trailer here: