What is there to say about “Winchester”? It was fine. Helen Mirren and Jason Clark do a fine job. The scares mainly consist of jump variety, more of a biological reaction than any produced with the film’s control of tone and atmosphere. The first two acts have interesting moments but the conclusion is ridiculous and over-the-top.
“Winchester” wasn’t good. It wasn’t really bad. It was fine.
This mediocrity is the film’s biggest crime. The story behind “Winchester” is true. The house is a real place in California. The widow of the Winchester Repeating Arms company felt such incredible guilt that she thought that her family was cursed because of the deaths. The only way to avoid the ghosts of victims to her namesake’s rifle was to keep the house under constant construction for nearly forty years. It is a weird and interesting story.
So much could have been done with the insane and disorienting geometry of the house. The proprietor, Sarah Winchester, played by Mirren, could have been a figure of mystery. The audience could be led to question her sanity.
Instead “Winchester” is a straightforward horror movie about a woman being right about being into spiritualism. The scares all consisted of the ambient sound dropping out, a character slowly approaching something, then suddenly an image flashes on screen and a loud sound plays and the audience is startled into reaction.
Period-piece horror films have been gaining popularity in the last few years. The aesthetics never really mixed before because most horror movies put the majority of their funds into effects. Period films live and die by their sets and costumes. More recently, with films like “The Conjuring,” “Annabelle,” “Crimson Peak,” “The Woman in Black,” “The Witch” and one of the 18 films based on “The Amityville Horror” there has been a surge of horror films set in the past.
It makes sense, there is so much potential for horror in the past. However, like with most film trends, there are those that really use the aesthetic to their advantage, like “The Witch”. And those that seem hell-bent on producing a by-the-numbers jump scare filled horror movie, like “The Conjuring.”
Disappointingly, “Winchester” falls on its face into the latter category.