Movie Review: “Winchester” – Not Enough Sam and Dean

Written by Jeremiah Greville February 09, 2018

Winchester

Paint a beige wall another shade of beige, pull up a chair, drink some Nyquil, and watch that sucker dry. It will be mildly more entertaining then watching Winchester in theatres. This pointless film has received abysmal reviews, squandered an interesting premise, and been confused with a (much better) TV show about monster hunters. The contrarian in me desperately wants to tell you it’s worth watching, but it’s not. It’s as bad as the reviews say. While it might make for a decent Netflix matinee, it’s not worth your money to see it in theatres. Heck, it’s barely worth my time to complain about in detail—but here goes anyway.

Winchester stars Helen Mirren as wealthy widower Sarah Winchester, and Jason Clarke as Dr. Eric Prince, a psychiatrist hired to see if she’s still fit to run her late husband’s rifle company. Prince travels to Winchester’s mansion—a sprawling estate always under construction—to observe her in person. There, he learns that she’s secretly been building rooms to trap and help the ghosts of people killed by her rifles. It’s set in 1906, ghostly hijinks ensue, there’s an earthquake, and one of the guys from Insidious shows up. If you’ve seen any ghost movie before, then nothing will surprise you here. The set up and premise is novel enough, but the execution is eight different kinds of bland. The only surprising thing about Winchester is how boring it ends up being.

“Sarah Winchester is anything but common.”

Winchester is not the worst horror movie every made, but it’s an exceptional misfire considering its pedigree. It was based on a real haunted location, involved a serious modern-day issue (gun control!), and was set to star Helen Mirren in the lead—friggin’ Helen Mirren! Instead, we got a soft-sell fiction that glosses over the real Sarah Winchester, ignores modern debates entirely, and stars Jason Clarke instead. Who in the hell ever wanted that? And yes, I’m not making that up. Though Mirren rightfully receives top billing, Clarke–a charisma black hole–is the main character. You have to stare at his bland, weaselly, robot-John-Conner face through most of the film. Sure, he can act in a lead role, but that doesn’t mean he should.

Winchester

One of the strangest things about Winchester is that it’s dull in spite of itself. An opening salvo of cheap jump scares in the first half-hour leads to an overlong stretch of nothing in the middle, and an uninspired finale. These initial scares don’t ever pay off or build up—they just drain you of any investment in the film. It’s the same pattern over and over: silence, then loud noise, then jump scare. Rinse and repeat. None of the characters are interesting or engaging, and you’ll be left begging for their deaths or yours. There aren’t any meaningful arcs, there’s no larger message, and even the ghostly threat of the film is left largely unresolved. In a house full of angry spirits, Winchester revolves around dealing with one in particular. It never interrogates or explores its own world, narrative, or implications.

“I see you.”

They threw everything at this damned movie—none of it stuck, and all of it stunk. There’s a creepy possessed kid who’s never scary, compelling, or sympathetic. His equally unlikable and completely useless parent. There’s someone who can see ghosts and another person who can hear them. Then there are the arcane, loosely-defined rules, the vague threat, the poor lighting, the forced romantic tension, and the embarrassing third-act tragic reveal. You might be surprised by an insipid twist near the film’s conclusion that mirrors The Sixth Sense and demands a second viewing—but don’t be fooled. This film just wants to waste as much of your time as possible. Don’t let it.

Winchester

It’s a bit insulting how much Winchester, and writer/directors the Spierig Brothers, expect us to care about these characters. Prince’s secret history is only revealed halfway through the film, and his initial development is all but discarded. Why should we care about him at this point? Then there’s Sarah Snook and Finn Scicluna-O’Prey as Marion Marriott and her son, Henry. Henry’s boring when he’s possessed by ghosts, and a brat when he’s not. Marion has no role in the plot, except as an expected romantic foil, and her triumphant monologue near the end of the film falls flat. Again—why should we care about them? Mirren is the only actor who pulls off some character at all, and even she sleepwalks through half the film—literally and figuratively. Spierig brothers: if you want an audience to care, then make us.

“The rifle doesn’t discriminate.”

But perhaps the most insulting thing about Winchester is how it handles the gun control debate. Sarah Winchester mourns and keeps records of everyone ever killed by her rifles, but still profits from them. She’s apologetic, but later seems most concerned with protecting her family from the rifles’ curse. The film doesn’t take a clear stance. If it did, or examined Sarah’s hypocrisy at all, then it might have been more effective—and affecting. But instead—spoilers!–the main villain is killed with a rifle. Hooray! Guns are good again. Good job, guns. Winchester has nothing substantive to add to the gun debate, and no courage to even take a damn stand. This is not a movie about gun control, or Sarah Winchester, or the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Winchester is a film about nothing.

Winchester

I haven’t said much about the Winchester house itself, and that’s because there’s not much to say. The never-ending, labyrinthine mega-mansion is the main selling point of the film, but we’re only treated to it in dialogue. Of its 100+ rooms, we see maybe six. It’s darkened, twisting hallways? Just a single strange staircase. There’s never a sense of scale, or place, or architecture throughout. Even the exterior shots don’t do it any justice. Our only indication that the mansion is special at all comes in the form of overhead tracking shots of the roof. Yes, the roof. And no, there’s nothing interesting happening on it. Winchester is so poorly executed and presented that’s almost embarrassing.

“Seal that door!”

But I know—and I hate saying this—that Winchester will still appeal to some viewers. It’s old-fashioned Gothic aesthetic and slow pace puts it squarely in the realm of films like The Woman in Black and The Others. And that’s fine, I guess. To each their own. But consider yourself warned: Winchester is a waste of an interesting premise and a magnificent actress. It’s a waste of the filmmakers’ time and yours. The twist is lame, the characters suck, and the whole thing goes nowhere. You could watch porn for the plot and get more story out of it. You could fall asleep in church and be more entertained. Winchester is a wasted opportunity–don’t pull the trigger on this one.

My Rating: 3.5/10

Winchester

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About Jeremiah Greville

Jeremiah Greville is a pretty rad beard that's attached itself to a human face. The beard likes movies, television, comic books, and gentle finger rubs. The human likes pizza and sleep. When they work together, they write reviews. Hope you enjoy them!

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