Feb-7-2018

Reel Snippet – Winchester

Summary: In 1906, the grieving widow Sarah Winchester (Helen Mirren) claims to be influenced by spirits to have her mansion constantly built and rebuilt with Stranger and stranger designs. The board of the Winchester Rifle Company, which her family owns, wishes to vote the madwoman out, so they call upon a doctor named Eric Price (Jason Clarke) to perform a psych evaluation on her in the hopes that he will declare her unfit to own the company. Initially dismissive of her claims of spirits killed by Winchester rifles haunting her home, he starts to see things he can’t explain. As it turns out, he has some ghosts of his own to deal with, but he must do so quickly before a truly malevolent spirit descends on the house and ends the Winchester name for good.

Review: Winchester took an incredibly interesting premise and turned it into a dime-a-dozen jump scare bonanza. It’d be enough if that were the least of its problems, but the fact that I could see most of the jump scares coming a mile away did not help in the slightest. It’s aggravating because a movie about Sarah Winchester and the crazy house she built (which still stands as a historical site in glorious San Jose) could have been a great psychological study, something akin to The English Patient or the 1963 version of The Haunting. Instead, we get something closer to the 1999 version of The Haunting… which is more apropos than I thought considering how similar the endings are.

If I could sum up the film in one word, it would be “cheap.” From the costumes to the sets to even the lettering on the title, the entire aesthetic looks incredibly low budget (or at least like the budget wasn’t allocated well). One of the companies that produced this was CBS Films, which makes sense because this feels like a TV movie that got pushed to the big screen. It would definitely explain the wooden acting from everyone, except for Helen Mirren, of course.

The more I think about this movie, the more I see Hollywood’s frustrating fingerprints on it. From what I’ve researched, there was never an “Eric Price” involved with the Winchester Mystery House, so logic dictates that he was cooked up by executives to give audiences a male perspective to “relate” to. I hate it when studios do this — it’s a profound disrespect for both the source material and the audience as well as a pointless reinforcement of industry sexism. Again, had any of these characters been interesting, this might have been more forgivable, but I didn’t care one bit about Eric’s dark past nor Sarah’s niece and great-nephew (Sarah Snook and Finn Scicluna-O’Prey respectively) who keep getting tormented by dark spirits. In fact, now that I think about it, in a movie called Winchester, Sarah Winchester has pretty much no bearing on the plot.

Other bits strike me as either lazy or a missed opportunity. Case in point, there’s a big deal made about sealing malevolent spirits behind doors with thirteen nails. Not only does the big bad ghost blow right through that just because, but when all the nailed doors get blown open, guess how many of the inhabitants confront our heroes? (Hint: It’s a number between one and negative-one.) To sum up, if you want a true experience involving the Winchester family, visit the actual Winchester Mystery House and take the tour. Either that or just watch Supernatural; true, those are different Winchesters, but at least you’ll be entertained.

Fun Tidbit: Want some more historical inaccuracies? This movie tries to tie events to the Earthquake of 1906, but at that time, the Winchester Mansion was seven stories tall rather than the four stories we see in the movies. A seven-story haunted mansion… now that’s something that would look good and spooky on film.


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