On paper Winchester appears to be a delectable proposition for any filmmaker to undertake.
Filled with mystery and intrigue, the infamous Winchester Mystery House is amped with so much ammunition to fire up the fantastical and ghoulish experiences that have allegedly occurred in this historical location and transport to the screen in order to scare the masses.
The tricky part though is in its delivery. Ghost stories have been a difficult medium these days to project on the big screen, unless your name happens to be James Wan or with the possible exception of The Woman In Black starring Daniel Radcliffe, both managing to make empty spaces and the dark fill with fear and dread.
Interestingly, Winchester was first acquired by Hammer films, (the production team behind The Woman In Black), but somewhere along the way it changed hands to CBS Films.
To strengthen the appeal of the film came with the casting of Helen Mirren as Sarah Winchester, who found became incredibly wealthy after the death of her husband with a 50% holding of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company.
Along with this vast fortune though, she became convinced that she and her family were cursed and churn that money into the house by building numerous rooms with doors and stairways leading to nowhere in order to trap and confuse the spirits that found their way into her home.
So, where did the film go wrong?
The problem arises through the films narrative. There’s no story here besides what is printed in the history books and unfortunately it seems that the script writers lacked the imagination to weave any creativity into the real world to create anything presentable to fashion a twinkle of a scare, let alone grip you to the edge of your seat.
Instead we’re presented with a hodge-podge of convoluted storylines that line-up with the individual characters but (much like the great house itself), when combined there is a misconnection and feels tacked on with no rhyme or reason.
The actors do there level best with what they have, Mirren at least looks like she’s having fun in her role, and Australian Jason Clarke manifests as much acting muscle that he can muster with his tortured Dr Eric Price, fighting with a past that haunts him. In doing so, Clarke continues to skirt along the periphery of the film scene waiting for his big break to come.
For the rest of the cast are grossly under-utilised, especially actors Bruce Spence and Angus Sampson (Insidious film series), but none more so than Sarah Snook (The Secret River, Black Mirror) who as far as this writer is concerned deserves greater recognition than she is currently receiving.
Ultimately, the filmmakers try to wrangle every trick in the book that ghost stories of yester-year proved successful.
There’s the haunted house, the possessed child, the medium, and the hero with a problematic past.
The end result, just leads the viewer in the garden house without a plot to string everything together.
The Spierig Brothers have offered so much promise since their directorial debut Undead, and their follow up, Daybreakers, but have since slid into a state of nothingness with the latest Saw instalment Jigsaw and Winchester proving to be mediocre affair. Where they go from here is anyone’s guess.
The Spierig Brothers offer too much substance and no collective thoughts in this mis-mangled construction of a movie, that wastes the talent of actors that are on display. It’s a shame, as it could have been so much more, but ends up being more of a whisper than a full-blown apparition of epic proportions.
– Saul Muerte