Possible spoilers for Winchester below!
Winchester, a horror movie directed by the Spierig Brothers (Undead, Predestination), is based on the folklore of Sarah Winchester and the Winchester Mystery House, an expansive and seemingly labyrinth-like building built with no rhyme or reason and definitely no master plan.
The folklore goes that Sarah Winchester built the random rooms to appease the spirits of the those killed by Winchester weapons, a suggestion made to her by a psychic after the death of her husband.
It’s grounds for a psychological horror movie, isn’t it? Madness plaguing the mind, the idea that evil can stain a location, festering and affecting those nearby.
Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House comes to mind – a brilliant and tremendously effective ghost story that has something to say about grief and loss, much like the film Winchester attempts.
But the film, for all its potential, doesn’t quite get off the ground, instead settling somewhere in the middle – content at staying a goofy ghost flick.
Though it’s cinematography is handsome and it’s costumes and sets are lavish and it’s cast are all doing their best to sell their roles, something is missing.
The maddening thing is – it’s heart is in the right place. The theme of grief and loss and yearning run throughout the film, coming to an emotional end by the film’s climax.
Yet, it’s something that doesn’t feel as if it’s given enough room to breathe, to grow, to haunt the many hallways like the spirits themselves.
Again, I think of The Haunting of Hill House, of Eleanor’s wavering mind, of her struggles in the tainted Hill House as the location affects her very way of thinking.
The curious thing with WINCHESTER is its house doesn’t have much of a personality. It never feels like it’s own character. It never feels maddening or awe-inspiring or captivating because not enough time has been given to exploring it through the eyes of the main character.
The same can be said for its otherworldly occupants, who could’ve very easily had personality but exist merely as spooks in the background.
This makes me think of 2001’s Thirteen Ghosts. A goofy remake of a goofy William Castle movie whose house still feels labyrinth-like, whose ghosts have personality and are characters in their own way.
In Winchester, it’s only in the third act where the ghosts come alive, where the power of suggestion alludes to their tormented past. Before such a time, they are merely there for shock value, spooks in the night.
In The Conjuring, the ghosts that exist within the house get a moment to come to life, to express their reason for lingering, without taking away from the film’s main characters or letting out some of the steam from the film.
At the end of the day, Winchester is a film that misses the mark. I didn’t hate it – rather, I’m frustrated by it. Saddened, even.
Even if I assume that I’m nitpicking, and drop that angle, the film feels like it becomes a breezy jumpscare fest instead of utilising it’s set and characters.
J’s Verdict: ☆☆