By Jack Dignan
Winchester directors and co-writers Peter and Michael Spierig will forever have my attention. The Australian duo first came onto the scene with 2003’s Undead, a film they then followed up with back-to-back brilliance in the form of Daybreakers and, my personal favourite, Predestination. It was the latter film that really brought them into my life, and I’m forever thankful. If you’re yet to watch that movie, please, check it out. It’s a film so good that I’ve become naturally optimistic towards everything else they’ve got coming out. Unfortunately, it’s all been downhill from there.
If last year’s Jigsaw was a remarkably average attempt to swindle their careers into more of a mainstream audience, Winchester sees them attempting to do that and failing miserably. It tells the supposed (but totally bogus) true story of Sarah Winchester (Helen Mirren), a widower left in charge of a Californian gun company heavily involved in the American Civil War. Her guns resulted in the death of hundreds, if not thousands of people, much to her sincere regret. Sarah’s house is constantly under construction, with rooms and stairs following no coherent pattern and leading to absolutely nowhere, striking concern for her sanity.
That’s when Dr. Eric Price (Jason Clarke) is brought in. He’s hired to spend a few nights at the Winchester mansion, where he’s to asses her mental stability and deem whether or not he sees her fit to continue running her company. It’s a task that appears simple enough. Alas, this isn’t the case. For the longer Eric stays there, the weirder the situations become, and it’s soon apparent that Sarah Winchester isn’t making these new rooms for her. She’s making them for the spirits of those murdered by her weapons, and some of these spirits aren’t happy with their untimely departures.
The basic premise is, in its own right, devilishly creepy. You’ve got a maze of house overrun by evil entities lusting for revenge against the owner, and a stranger thrust into the middle of it all, forced to assess what’s real and what’s not. Winchester should’ve been brilliant. There’s so much room for sheer terror laid out in this inherently interesting premise, and yet the Spierig Brothers whittle it down to your generic, run-of-the-mill jump scare fest that never once follows through with any of its initial creativity.
Merely the location alone should be enough to frighten the life out of you, but clearly that’s to be saved for another film. The plot is generic, and the scares even more so, blatantly foreshadowing what you already know is coming. Some of this set up is nerve-wracking, merely based on the potential to come, but when you get to the actual execution, it’s always laughably bad. A mirror that turns on its own? Pipes that send audio to other rooms? A mysteriously locked corridor? I wonder what’s going to happen next…
Winchester is competently made; I’ll give it that. The Spierig Brothers sure know how to stage a shot. There’s a brilliant, if not over-done colour pallet at use, which lends itself to the twisted set design, but set design alone isn’t enough to make this film enjoyable. The final result is far from it. I legitimately don’t think there’s a single effective scare in this entire movie. Sure, a loud noise here or there is a little louder than anticipated, but that’s not scary; that’s just unexpected.
Even the plot is utterly ridiculous. Like I said, there’s *so* much potential here, but it all falls short in execution, and once the third act kicks in, I couldn’t help but laugh at the idiocy presented on screen. A climactic showdown against the primary evil entity not only makes zero sense, but it’s done so poorly and so unintentionally humorously that I think a little part of me died inside while watching it. Everyone involved in this movie is extremely talented. It’s such a shame to see all that talent put to waste.
Like the article? Make sure to spread the word on social media.
You May Also Like: