On the surface it seems Winchester is a movie that has everything going for it. Based on the bizarre true story of Sarah Winchester, heiress to the Winchester Repeating Arms Company fortune, who late in life became obsessed with building an architecturally surreal, sprawling monstrosity dubbed the “Winchester Mystery House” in San Jose, California, the story provides a great anchor for spooky shenanigans. Add to that a solid cast headed by Helen Mirren as Sarah Winchester and talented Aussie directors, The Spierig Brothers, at the helm and you’d think this was a surefire success.
Sadly, you’d be wrong.
Winchester frames its tale around Eric Price (Jason Clarke) a doctor who is grieving for a lost love and self medicating with booze and drugs. The Winchester company hires him to interview Sarah Winchester, ostensibly to find her mentally unfit to run the company anymore. Eric agrees and soon arrives at the Winchester house, which is in a constant state of flux, with staircases leading nowhere and hallways filled with doors nailed shut, by thirteen nails a piece.
This promising beginning soon peters out, however, as we’re introduced to a not-very-compelling mystery involving Marian Marriott (Sarah Snook) and her possibly possessed son, spooky ranga Henry (Finn Scicluna-O’Prey) which plays out in a series of achingly predictable, generic sequences that end with noisy jump scares done better in almost every other recent ghost flick.
Even worse, international treasure, Helen Mirren is wasted in a thinly-written role that forces her to be a nonentity for most of the film’s runtime, and then spout goofy exposition for the noisy, silly third act.
There’s a good film buried in here somewhere, and the concept of architecture as penance for wrongs committed deserved a better script, but a combination of lazy writing, uninspired direction and a overall lack of originality leaves Winchester feeling inert and lifeless.