Cast: Helen Mirren, Jason Clarke, Sarah Snook, Finn Scicluna-O’Prey
Director: The Spierig Brothers
Synopsis from Rotten Tomatoes: Inspired by true events. On an isolated stretch of land 50 miles outside of San Francisco sits the most haunted house in the world. Built by Sarah Winchester, (Academy Award (R)-winner Helen Mirren) heiress to the Winchester fortune, it is a house that knows no end. Constructed in an incessant twenty-four hour a day, seven day a week mania for decades, it stands seven stories tall and contains hundreds of rooms. To the outsider it looks like a monstrous monument to a disturbed woman’s madness. But Sarah is not building for herself, for her niece (Sarah Snook) or for the troubled Doctor Eric Price (Jason Clarke) whom she has summoned to the house. She is building a prison, an asylum for hundreds of vengeful ghosts, and the most terrifying among them have a score to settle with the Winchesters…
I have to admit, when I heard that Helen Mirren was going to be in a horror movie, I was pretty interested. Even though I knew the movie was going to be full of jump scares and loud noises, I thought that a well-written story and a great performance by Mirren could make Winchester a standout in a genre full of duds. Then I looked at the PG-13 rating and knew my dreams would be shattered. Instead of being fueled by a strong performance by Mirren, Winchester is fueled by an unoriginal story, way too many convenient coincidences, and a general lack of scares.
Not only is the story unoriginal, but at times it does not make sense at all. One scene in particular has our protagonist Eric (Clarke) is walking around the house at night because he had a nightmare and cannot sleep. Throughout his walk around the house, he feels the need to hide from the workers and Sarah (Mirren). The real question is why does he feel this way? What happens if he gets caught? It is completely normal for someone to take a midnight walk, so I am not sure why he had to be so secretive about it, since the next scene shows us there is no consequence for getting caught. Moving on, the most important part of a horror movie is just that; the horror. There are maybe a handful of moments that could be classified as scary, but the rest of the movie is either plot development or predictable. I really do not like when I predict every jump scare, and this movie gets to that point very quickly. If this movie was rated R, I believe there would be more of an opportunity to take risks, but it cannot do that with a PG-13 rating. Finally, the ending of the movie wraps up far too conveniently for my taste. It is basically revealed that Sarah picked Eric to evaluate her because she found out that his past would connect him to her house. This film takes place in 1906, so she would have to go through every regional and national newspaper looking for the proper information about him and how she can use it to help her position within the company. This is a borderline impossible task, even for someone who has unlimited time like Sarah, so it really took me out of the movie from then on out. The conclusion is laughably bad, as it takes almost every horror cliché and uses it at the same time, making me feel very dissatisfied at the end.
Overall, Winchester took every ounce of potential that it had and stomped on it for the sake of making more money. There are only two things that I felt saved this movie from being a Razzie-level piece of garbage. The first is that Helen Mirren gives a solid performance in a role that would be difficult to excel in even for the best actor alive. The second is that while it might have been boring at times, I wanted to learn more about the world that the Winchester’s lived in. Unfortunately, we never got to see more of that world, but knowing how this industry works, we might get that wish in a few years when the sequel comes out. Hopefully when that day comes, we drop some of the clichés and bump this movie up to the horror movie it was meant to be.
Overall Score: 3/10