Horror film “Winchester” begins with an intriguing premise, sparking the imagination of any viewer looking for a scare. While the writer/director duo The Spierig Brothers flirt with the possibilities, they fail to summon a fully compelling movie.
A house with more than 100 rooms built with no rhyme or reason rests in San Jose, California. Owned by the widow of the Winchester gun manufacturer, the mansion is said to be one of the most haunted places in America, with the spirits of those killed by the Winchester rifle residing within the maze-like halls.
The film takes place in 1906 and follows Eric Price, a psychiatrist dealing with his own personal demons brought about by drug use. He is hired by the Winchester arms manufacturer to evaluate the sanity of Sarah Winchester, the founder’s widow and current head shareholder of the company. She believes spirits killed by Winchester rifles communicate with her in an attempt to move on.
“Winchester,” throughout its hour and a half runtime, attempts to tell a story about death, grief and the effects of holding onto loved ones. Spirits tell Sarah Winchester to build rooms that resemble the place they died, so they may reside in them and find peace.
Helen Mirren, who plays Sarah, doesn’t phone in her performance, helping to sell the larger ideas of the film and make them come together. Sadly, it seems like she might have been the only one committed to the film.
Most of “Winchester” is spent squandering potential. Instead of exploring the 100 rooms of restless spirits, the film takes place in a few rooms and tight corridors. Eric investigates strange noises, only to be spooked by tired and predictable jump scares from uninspired ghost designs.
Herein lies the film’s main issue: there is an interesting story at the heart of “Winchester,” but it’s bogged down by the established tropes of the “haunted house” genre.
Despite the boring attempts at horror, I still wanted to like this movie. The final 20 minutes are more exciting, as an antagonistic ghost is revealed and things start to get more intense. The jump scares are cut down in favor of direct confrontations and genuine tension.
When watching these final moments, I realized “Winchester” truly is a missed opportunity. We never visit more than a few rooms, despite the mansion being known for its confusing structure and abundance of bizzare spaces. The characters feel underdeveloped, with Eric in particular having nothing to do except be skeptical of ghosts that the audience discovers early on are real.
That is truly a shame, because a fascinating and effective horror/drama exists within the confused halls of this movie. The concept of building rooms to help the dead pass on is interesting, but is barely explored. The themes, plot and characters have the potential to be intriguing, but don’t mix with the tired carnival ride scares.
I love what “Winchester” could be, but I can’t recommend what it ultimately is.
Sam Goodrich Staff Writer