“Winchester” Movie Review: Your Better-Than-Average Winter Horror Fare

Below is a simple plot summary for Winchester (spoilers, by the way):

  1. Man (Jason Clarke) goes to stay at a creepy house owned by a creepy woman (Helen Mirren).
  2. Man is bombarded by a train of sh**y jump scares.

The End.

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So it’s wintertime. During this season, filmgoers receive their scheduled lackluster, atrocious horror movie that makes us question why studios even bother with the genre anymore. This wonderful time of year brings us classics such as Texas Chainsaw 3D, The Unborn, and One Missed Call. What do all these films have in common? Well, they were all gloriously terrible!

But, does Winchester follow the same fate?

Sure, but to what extent?

Winchester (or Winchester: The House that Ghosts Built) is a 2018 supernatural horror movie, directed by the Sperig Brothers (Daybreakers, Jigsaw). The film features prolific actors Jason Clarke (Zero Dark Thirty) and the Oscar-winning – and radiant – Helen Mirren (The Queen). Winchester tells the tale of Clarke, as he plays a brilliant, but drug-abusing, psychologist/therapist who is assigned to mentally assess Mirren’s character, the enigmatic and mourning Sarah Winchester. Winchester is believed to be insane as she claims to hear voices (ghosts, spirits) in her illustrious, historical San Jose mansion, which she has been constantly adding rooms to. Clarke’s character goes to reside in Winchester’s home for the duration of his assessments of the matriarch. As expected, the doctor begins to see ghoulish apparitions in the house and starts to become privy to estate’s dark history.

Winchester is not a good movie. Point. Blank. Period. However, it is not an awful movie. I would even go so far as to say that this film is only really bad at worst. Winchester is simply a boring, cliché, unoriginal horror flick that is not worth your money.

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Regarding the filmmaking, this movie is solid! The cinematography is very good, the production design is quite nice (although some exterior shots of the manor look rather low-budget and fake), and Helen Mirren is gives a great performance. There are some very interesting shots in the movie, as the setting is a house with extremely strange architecture. Furthermore, the performances by the actors are serviceable. That is about as far as positives for this movie go.

The cinematography in this film is nice-looking, but it lacks proper direction. Scenes are too lit, giving the movie no atmosphere. There is nothing creepy about this film aside from Helen Mirren’s character. For the most part, Winchester felt nothing like a horror movie outside of the awful, cringe-inducing (in a bad way) jump scares (more on those later) that the film throws at the audience ad nauseam. This movie felt reminiscent of dramatization skits from paranormal TV shows (e.g. The Haunting). I am interested, however, in whether or not that was intentional since documentaries about the Winchester estate are not few. Regardless, if applicable, that choice did not make this movie any good, or scary for that matter.

As I anticipated going in, Winchester overuses the jump scare. The scares are utterly predictable and are just annoying. It should be noted that the movie does not do much to build genuine tension during its runtime, so the jump scares are little more than tiring exercises that are forced onto the audience. This goes without saying, but the scares were not frightening at all. There was even one involving a shotgun that made me laugh so hard in the theater that I almost couldn’t hold it in.

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So, how are the characters? Bland. The protagonist is rather forgettable and not very likable. I do appreciate how they tried to give him a somewhat tragic backstory so that the climax of the film could be engaging, but it did not really hit home. This attempt does show that the writers were interested in giving some modicum of development to their protagonist. I cannot really say that about the rest of the film’s cast. Mirren, while great (in terms of her performance), is the stereotypical “creepy old woman who can talk to ghosts” character, so there is not much to say about her without getting into spoilers. I will say that she does feel a bit more complex than her archetype is normally portrayed. Besides Clark and Mirren’s respective roles, the other characters are very uninspired. This film features the hackneyed trope of the “creepy, possessed child” character, which left me unsurprised. The remaining characters are unimportant, simple as that. It does not help that the movie’s script is also average-at-best.

In conclusion, Winchester is really nothing more than a bland, uninspired PG-13 horror movie that I can’t say is unwatchable. I will admit that I was entertained during the movie’s climax, despite how silly it was. While it does have merit and genuine quality, that is almost entirely found in its filmmaking and Mirren’s performance. Even at that, the filmmaking was flawed due to the movie lacking style and an overall consistent tone, and Mirren’s character was not interesting or engaging. Her talents were very much wasted on this movie.

I would not advise anyone to spend their money on seeing this film – either in theaters or through any rentals – but it is certainly tolerable to watch. It is also relatively short, coming in around only 100 minutes for its runtime. If you were forced, for whatever reason, to watch Winchester, it will at worst only be an extremely boring experience, but nothing painstaking.

Winchester busted its way into theaters on February 2, 2018.

(All photos credit to IMDb).

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3 comments

    1. I can see people saying the movie’s alright at best. It’s definitely not a complete p.o.s, and it’s certainly better than other wintertime-release horror movies. You can at least tell that the filmmakers tried to make something decent.

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  1. Eh, sounds forgettable. Thank for the review.

    Sincere, not-smart-ass question: ‘painstaking’ always meant ‘super-tediously careful’, ‘making an extra effort’, like ‘a painstaking effort to restore the ancient artwork’, because the person ‘took pains’ to make the thing great. Has that changed, or did something happen in the typing? It could be either, and I am just asking if I missed the evolution of the word somehow. Thanks.

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