In my previous reviews I’ve noted how much of a sucker I am for haunted house horror movies. One of my favourite horror films of all time is ironically, House (1985). Winchester (2018) is the latest attempt in the genre. The film stars Helen Mirren as heiress Sarah Winchester. It is loosely based on the famously known legend of the allegedly cursed Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California. This roughly 161 room mansion that is widely considered one of the most ghostly locations on the planet. Its layout is maze-like with certain areas within the grounds only being discovered recently. Sounds like the perfect setting for a horror movie to me, what could go wrong?
Since its construction in 1884, the property and mansion were claimed by many to be jinxed by the ghosts of those killed with Winchester rifles. Under Winchester’s day-to-day guidance, its “from-the-ground-up” construction proceeded around the clock without interruption. Supposedly, this continued until her death on September 5, 1922, at which time work immediately ceased. Stephen King’s miniseries Rose Red is loosely based on the house.
In 1906, the Winchester company hires Doctor Eric Price to stay at the house and assess Sarah, believing she is mentally unfit to remain in charge of the company. Eric is grieving from the death of his wife Ruby and reliant on drugs. He arrives at the house and has a ghostly vision that he believes is a side effect of the drugs he has taken. Later, he spots a ghost in the basement and witnesses a possessed Henry jump off the roof. Eric saves him. Henry is the son of Marian, the daughter of Sarah Winchester.
The next day, Eric begins to conduct his assessment of Sarah’s mental well-being. Sarah admits her fear of ghosts and believes she can help them move on. She reveals that she knows about Eric’s drug problem and confiscates them. That night, Eric witnesses a seemingly possessed Sarah draw a plan for a new room. He is startled by an entity and flees back to his room. The next day, Sarah shows Eric that she keeps records of people killed by Winchester rifles. It is revealed that Eric had actually been shot and killed by a Winchester rifle before being revived, and he keeps the refurbished bullet with him.
Sarah explains her belief that boarding up a door with 13 nails has the ability to trap the vengeful entities. A possessed Henry attempts to kill Sarah with a rifle, but is stopped by Eric and Marian. Realizing how violent this spirit is, Sarah sends her staff away and decides to personally remove the ghost from her home. Will she succeed?
Winchester has to be the most disappointing, bland and forgettable horror film that I have seen in quite some time. Winchester Mystery House is a stunning location with a fascinating aesthetic, one that is ripe for chills & scares. Unfortunately, it ends up feeling unexplored and almost entirely underutilized.
This film has literally every single horror movie trope that there is and it delivers them with not an ounce of subtlety. As soon as Eric arrives at the mansion and settles into his room he begins to see ghosts. Not only are the effects laughable but the jump scares are creatively lacking. You’ll be numb to how overdone they are by the time the credits roll.
The plot itself isn’t terrible but it is delivered in such a boring way, you’ll likely not feel any investment at all. The performances lead me to believe that the actors themselves were struggling to stay awake due to how dull it is.
Winchester isn’t scary, it is unoriginal and very predictable. It’s a huge shame as with the location and all of the history that comes with it, it could have been so much more.