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February 3, 2018



by Franz Patrick

Winchester (2018)
★ / ★★★★

Touring the actual Winchester Mystery House is exponentially more fun than having to sit through this lifeless, boring, pedestrian film with nothing of value to offer. At least with the former, although you go through the house in a group with strangers, each of you is given a flashlight and nearly every room is worth looking into because it is almost completely shrouded in darkness. Creaky floorboards make you question whether moving forward would be wise. And despite the tour guide’s occasionally unnecessary explanations, such as a significance of a room or decoration, and obvious attempts to amp up the creepiness of the place, you can choose to allow your imagination fill in the gaps regarding the possible reasons why Sarah Winchester decided for her home to undergo construction twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

Given the chance, I would like to sit down with directors Michael and Peter Spierig and ask about their inspirations for the project as well as what inclined them to tell the story the way they did. I suspect a lack of a convincing answer because the film is a hodgepodge of bad ideas and executions. It lacks a defined identity. For instance, it is deeply frustrating that the story takes place in 1906 and yet its approach to entertain is merely composed of jump scares, employing tired setups and played out placements of the camera. Thus, we know exactly when the scares will come and where. Had the writers, Tom Vaughan and the Spierig Brothers, really thought about their material, they would have come to the conclusion that the best way to tell the story is to start off as a serious period drama as horror elements creep in steadily. It requires elegance, finesse.

Early in the picture, it is emphasized that house contains several stories, numerous rooms, and curious hallways that lead to dead ends. Yet for some reason, the filmmakers fail to provide some kind of tour that is organic to the pacing so that we grow familiar with the layout of the place. So many horror movies, especially those that fall under the haunted house sub-genre, get this wrong. Or ignore it altogether. This torture to be endured, so unimaginative every step of the way, is no exception. It is actually worse because every image we see on screen looks like a piece of a set. Scenes are incredibly well-lit… when they shouldn’t be sometimes. At times getting it wrong on purpose is the right way to go.

It is important to establish a mental map for several reasons. First, it creates a connection between setting and audience—a sense of place imprints on the mind. Second, when the scares begin, and thus the action, we do not feel lost or confused with regards to where a character might be heading, what he or she might be planning in order to overcome a set of trials. Another reason is specificity. It is crucial that we come across details specific to the story being told. It helps to establish a memorable experience. Perhaps the best example is Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining.”

“Winchester” stars Helen Mirren as the widowed owner of the haunted house and Jason Clarke plays a doctor who is hired to assess Sarah Winchester’s mental state. Both performers are capable of communicating a range of emotions without uttering a word, but their strengths are not utilized here. These are dramatic actors who are forced to play dumb—they are given uninspired characters we have all seen hundreds of times. Eventually, I found I was actually rooting for the malevolent spirits simply because I wanted the movie to end already. Halfway through, it is apparent that those from behind the camera have already used up all of their cheap parlor tricks. Every scare is forgettable. Every single one.

6 Comments Post a comment
  1. GaryGreg828
    Feb 9 2018

    what a waste; such an intriguing premise poorly executed by Hollywood yet again. I had been looking forward to this for the last 6-8 months when i first heard about. But i have only seen terrible reviews thus far, so will be skipping this one. you took one for the team here. lol.

    • Feb 12 2018

      The trailers actually convinced you that it might be a good movie? Haha. I felt it was going to be bad; I decided to go anyway, hoping to be surprised. What a bore!

      • GaryGreg828
        Feb 13 2018

        actually it wasn’t a trailer that got me interested, but some horror website article that had a list of 2018 releases and did a write-up about it to make it seem intriguing. Jason Clarke is such an underrated actor. I wrote a blog entry about him in 2013 and how he doesn’t get due credit in Hollywood; then then next year he starred in the War of the Planet of the Apes, and I thought was excellent. he has a very strong screen presence. I was hoping this may be a breakout role for him, but with this kind of writing and directing it’s not going to happen. maybe next time.

  2. Feb 13 2018

    You Know, I am a Winchester. For real Winchester ancestor. Just saying hi and telling you for a fact the paranormal is real. Have a good day. 😁

  3. Feb 21 2018

    I agree that as a horror story, this film is a bucket of stock standard spook cliches. But there is a serious side to this film that is not being acknowledged among the commentariat; its a message about the moral culpability of those who make guns. The Winchester lever action rifle attracted the same kind of comment that the AR-15 is getting today: a lethal killing machine whose makers are morally accountable.

    • Feb 22 2018

      I picked up on that as well. I agree with you; the movie needed to work as a horror movie first, but it would have helped had the writing taken more of a stance regarding gunmakers. After all, what are horror films but a critique of our current society? Well, the best ones are.


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