Directors: Michael Spierig & Peter Spierig
Running Time: 1 hour 39 minutes
It is my mission in life to find a modern horror film that is genuinely terrifying. One that doesn’t reply on jump scares and surprises, but can really chill me to the bone. Winchester, unfortunately, isn’t that film, but tries it’s best hand at horror.
Helen Mirren stars as Sarah Winchester, heiress to the Winchester firearm company. After the death of her husband, Sarah began renovations on her mansion. These renovations have now being going on for years, and don’t seem to be anywhere near to ending. Sarah designs rooms that are built and then locked up and torn down. This is repeated endlessly.
The board of the Winchester company don’t want Sarah in control of the business any longer. Her erratic behaviour has gained her the reputation as insane, and the board is determined to take the reigns from her by any means possible.
The board approaches washed up doctor Eric Price (Jason Clarke) to assess Sarah’s mental state- and pay him off to ensure he makes the most beneficial assessment to the company. Prince is opiate reliant, and needs the money to fuel his addiction. He agrees, and the story begins.
On arriving at the house, he is greeted by the silent butler Ben (Eamon Farren) and taken to his quarters. Almost immediately Eric starts to notice creepy happenings in the house. A small boy is cackling in the back of his mirror, sat in the chair in the corner of his bedroom. Eric sees the boy clear as day, but convinces himself it is a hallucination resulting from the drugs.
Eric meets Sarah’s fiercely loyal niece, Marion (Sarah Snook) and her son Henry (Finn Scicluna-O’Prey). Marion tells him to respect Sarah in her house, and is adamant that Sarah is completely sane. Henry is quiet and seems scarred by his Fathers death. Eric’s interested is piqued- he starts to see this assignment as more than just a way to fund his drug habit.
When Eric eventually meets Sarah, he begins his psychiatric assessments. In the various interview with Sarah that he conducts, she is very open with him about what her motivations for building the house are. The more she explains, the crazier she seems- but Eric is torn, witnessing the abnormalities in the house for himself. If Sarah is crazy, so is he.
Sarah’s story supports the real life legend of the Winchester house. She claims to be haunted by the many victims of the Winchester rifle. She summons them into the house, and then recreates the rooms in which they were killed. After apologising and making her peace with them, their spirits are free to move on to the next life.
The problem is that the latest ghost Sarah has summoned seems to be the embodiment of pure evil. She doesn’t know who it is, or how they were killed- but she can sense the evil all around the house. This spirit begins to gain power, and possess Henry, pushing him to attempt suicide and murder. This is classic horror movie/possessed child fodder, but doesn’t fail to worry the audience.
Of course, Prince has his own personal tragedy connected with the Winchester rifle. It becomes apparent that he is there for a reason- he needs to make his own peace and move on from a terrible loss, much like the ghosts in the Winchester mansion. Sarah helps him understand this, and he realises that she has been telling the truth the whole time.
What follows is a typical horror movie climax. The evil spirit reaches his full power and the movie descends into all out war between the spirit, Sarah and Eric. This gets a little muddled, and the resolution feels cheesy and doesn’t really make sense.
Winchester is a high budget horror movie with a genuinely interesting plot- which doesn’t happen too often in this genre! The structure is good and it is aesthetically interesting. The cast is great- Jason Clarke shines as always, and Helen Mirren gets the mix of creepy and sympathetic perfect.
Overall, the movie is predictable and it isn’t scary. If you’re looking for a movie that will raise the hairs on your arms, this isn’t for you. However, it is based on a true story- and it is very interesting. So it’s worth a try… as long as you don’t expect too much.