Review: Winchester—A Misfiring Jumpscare Fest

25 February 2018

Winchester is a haunted-house horror film directed by Michael and Peter Spierig, and is based on the true account of Sarah Winchester. Helen Mirren adeptly portrays the widowed heiress to the Winchester family fortune and gun manufacturing company, who famously kept her house in a constant state of construction for the last two decades of her life. The house itself is a seven-storey maze of dead-end staircases, unusable fireplaces, and doors opening into walls. Today it’s the most popular haunted house in the US—perfect fodder for a horror film.

The film is set in 1906 and follows Dr Eric Price (Jason Clarke), a psychologist tasked with assessing Sarah’s sanity. The film quickly introduces us to the history of the house and raises a few questions about Price’s own mysterious past. It’s a promising start, with a few healthy scares mixed in, but the problems quickly accumulate from there.

When Price finally arrives at the house, it becomes apparent that Winchester has little to offer the seasoned horror fan. The ‘scary’ moments in Winchester are almost exclusively of the flashing light and screeching violin variety, and the Spierig Brothers give us little time to breathe between jumpscares. While I was curious to see more of the labyrinthine mansion and its mysterious owner, I found myself instead bombarded with cookie-cutter ghosts jumping into mirrors and around corners. And therein lies Winchester’s central problem – it fails to capitalise on what makes the true story interesting and keeps people coming to the mansion to this day.

We’re never left guessing as to whether the house is actually haunted, and the ghosts were flashed in my face so often that I soon grew tired of their milky-white eyes and stringy hair. Winchester could have made us question Sarah’s sanity. It could have built suspense. In a house with “over 100 rooms”, surely we could’ve been shown more than a handful? While Jason Clarke is clearly trying his best and Helen Mirren is her usual ultra-composed self, neither of them are able to adequately sell the weak plot. I struggled to care when a villain finally emerged in the third act, and the supporting cast were consistently uninteresting. Listen for all the times Jason Clarke says “Yehs qwaht” like a Southern aristocrat.

Despite the flawed direction, I never found myself actively disliking the film. The first and second acts are intriguing, and a central mystery does emerge in-between all the jumpscares. If you’re new to horror and not yet tired of the tropes, you’ll probably have a good time with Winchester. If haunted houses and pasty-skinned ghost-demons aren’t for you, maybe let this one pass.


Winchester is in cinemas February 22.

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