The Spierig Brothers are perhaps best known for their Ethan Hawke films “Daybreakers” and “Predestination”. They also directed last year’s “Jigsaw”, a rekindling of the tired “Saw” franchise. Now they give us yet another horror entry with “Winchester”, an intriguing concept that amounts to nothing more than another bland processed genre film.
Inspiration for the story came from the popular legends surrounding Sarah Winchester, a wealthy heiress who inherited a fortune following her husband’s death in 1881. She was also left 50% ownership in her husband’s business – the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. It’s believed that at the time she was the wealthiest woman in the world.
Legends say Sarah believed her family to be cursed by every spirit killed by a Winchester rifle. She purchased a large farmhouse and immediately began spending her inheritance adding rooms to appease the spirits. The labyrinthine house remained in a perpetual state of construction, 24 hours a day, seven days a week until her death in 1922.
The Spierig’s (who also co-wrote the screenplay) begin their story in 1906. Sarah is played by Oscar-winning gem Helen Mirren (I would love to know how she was roped into this). Believing her to be unfit to run the company, her Winchester co-owners demand Sarah be mentally evaluated. They hire a drug-addicted louse of a doctor Eric Prince (Jason Clarke) to assess Sarah’s frame of mind and render the verdict they’re hoping for.
The not-so-good doctor arrives at the seven story, nearly 100 room Winchester estate and over the next several days the skeptical Eric has back-and-forths with the creepy Sarah over the existence of spirits. Aside from that early wrangling we learn they are both grief-stricken souls. Eric aches for his deceased wife while Sarah’s sorrow gives voice to the the film’s bungled gun control message. They are joined in the house by Sarah’s relatives Marion (Sarah Snook) and her son Henry (Finn Scicluna-O’Prey), but they’re mainly just along for the ride and serve as nothing more than plot devices.
It doesn’t take a Rhodes Scholar to figure out that the house is indeed haunted yet there is nothing particularly haunting about the house. We get dimly lighted hallways and plenty of dark corners but it’s far from spooky. In the place of terror and dread we get jump scares, an endless parade of tired, uninspired jump scares. In one way I found them helpful. After dozing amid the yawn-worthy exposition and lackluster tension-building, they did jolt me awake a couple of times.
“Winchester” ends up a bizarrely unremarkable slog that takes an interesting idea and does absolutely nothing with it. If you’ve seen even a couple of these types of movies nothing here will catch you off-guard. It’s a houseful of bland characters, toothless ‘horror’ and silly attempts at social commentary. The actors give it their all and no one is phoning it in, but it would help if they had something to work with. “Winchester” is a real snoozer.
VERDICT – 1.5 STARS