Winchester (2018) Movie Review
Michael and Peter Spierig
Tom Vaughan and the Spierig Brothers
No, millennial, the new release Winchester has nothing to do with a big-screen version of Supernatural…
It’s a highly fictionalized penny dreadful of one of the famous haunted houses in United States history and features an Oscar Winner and various respected character actors slumming for a paycheck. They don’t take it too seriously, and neither should you. That’s not to say it’s not entertaining, but that’s also not to say it’s actually scary. But, it’s February and you can only sit through Jumanji so many times. Sure, could also watch any of the Oscar nominees you missed, even the one you don’t really want to see (Call Me By Your Name, ahem) but I doubt even if you take your medicine and see Gary “He’s already won The Best Actor” Oldman chew scenery and Frances McDormand say the C-word and the N-word, you’ve never seen Helen Mirren thrown against the wall by a ghost. So, there’s that.
Winchester starts off like all haunted house stories do, with a washed-up doctor in 1906 (Mudbound’s Jason Clarke) taking laudanum by the spoonful and soliciting, not 1, not 2, but 3 prostitutes. His name is Dr. Price and he hasn’t gotten over the death of his wife (Foreshadowing Alert!!!) and he’s up to his neck in debt, probably because of the hookers and laudanum.
Fortunately for the good, well, passable doctor, someone needs his services, and he’s willing to pay the price…for Dr. Price. Random White Guy in a Suit represents the Winchester Repeating Rifle Company. He needs Price to observe the current majority stockholder of Winchester, Sarah Winchester (Helen Mirren, in an upgrade from Collateral Beauty). Sarah’s been pretty bummed by the recent deaths of her husband and baby daughter (Looking at Pictures of Dead People Alert!!!) and the other stockholders think she’s in such a state of grief that she’s doing things like wearing black like…The Woman In Black, adding countless rooms to an already enormous house because the ghosts tell her to (Foreshadowing Alert!!!), keeping track of every person killed by a Winchester Rifle (Foreshadowing Alert!!!) and having bells ring at midnight (Really Weird Thing to do Alert!!!).
It’s Price’s job to give her a clean bill of mental health or say that she’s completely unfit to fun the company and for that his hooker debts will be paid.
Because Sarah is played by a British person, you get the sense that there may be some method to her madness and not dismiss her as outright bonkers. Dr. Price knows that grief can cause a lot of things including a mind to snap, because he would know (Parallel Story Arc Alert as Well as Agent Scully-ish Skeptic Gets Hat Handed to him by Ghosts Alert!). Still, he’s just trying to do his job and he’s not going to let some crazy lady keep him from getting paid. Besides Mrs. Winchester’s recently widowed niece Mary (Sarah Snook) and her kid Henry (Finn O’ Prey) have come to stay for a while (Kid in Danger Alert!!!).
What could possibly go wrong?
What Works With Winchester
- While I can’t remember a moment that I was actually scared, I also can’t remember a moment that I was actually bored. Either the highly telegraphed series of Jump and Foley Scares works for you or it doesn’t. There’s some gallows entertainment provided by highly revered actors looking to get paid. I kept wondering if Helen Mirren took this role because she wanted an addition to her house.
- Wrong. I was frightened by one moment in the movie. There’s a shot of the Kid In Danger’s mixing bowl haircut. That was truly terrifying.
- Winchester directors Michael and Peter Spierig’s previous movie was last October’s recycled trash heap Jigsaw which was ridiculous and boring. At least Winchester is ridiculous and entertaining. Step up?
What Doesn't Work With Winchester
- As mentioned before, there isn’t a genuinely scary moment in the movie as your average episode of Ahs, Channel Zero, and yes, Supernatural has more earned jumps and frights. You wonder how things might have gone if the movie had been rated R, instead of a Blumhouse-worthy PG-13.
- Winchester is also known as The House That Spirit Built. It would have upped the scare factor if the “Spirits” you do see onscreen don’t look like castoffs from the Eddie Murphy movie The Haunted Mansion.
This House is Clean…of anything truly terrifying, but it is passably entertaining enough to keep you afloat until Black Panther.
Keep in mind that Fifty Shades Freed comes out next week so it’s not like you have a lot of options in the near future so don’t be so picky.