One of the worst wide release horror films of recent memory
Winchester has a few elements going for it: The Premise, Helen Mirren and Jason Clarke. Unfortunately none of these elements are properly utilized and creates a horror film that is filled with nonsensical exposition. The film feels like a lazy cash grab at the horror genre that stole some great talent to work with a downright atrocious script.
The first shot of the movie had me impressed, it looked like an old fashioned Hammer production, with the film giving a fantastic shot overhead of the Winchester mansion, with the title and extra font giving it even more class. Then the film stopped impressing me from its first shot in the dark, to the film’s oddly glossy layer over everything - the film just kept descending and lacked the element of “movie magic”. The constant jump scare after jump scare made for an irritating time at the theater, especially when they were as lazy as these. Just to give some insight on how many of the jump scares actually worked: the answer is one time.
If I’d have to go on a rant about one subject it’d be this, but I’ll keep it short about this nonsensical plot. The story is that Mrs. Winchester is a widow that builds constantly on her mansion to appease the ghosts that come to her residence after they are killed with a Winchester rifle. The arms company she runs sends a doctor who is severely suffering from longtime grief of his wife passing from her own hand and an accidental lethal shot into his own body that killed him for a few minutes. As he diagnoses the widow, he begins to witness some of the hauntings in the mansion first hand from possession to ghosts jumping out at him when it’s least expected. Soon he learns that the widow may not be as crazy as everyone thinks. Sounds rational from the way I wrote it? Well it’s incredibly messy and poorly told in “Winchester”, potential was present but was consistently lost every other second of the runtime.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
Helen Mirren plays the Widow Winchester, who is given very little material to work with beyond walking around in a black veil at night time. She is one of the most underused elements of a talented cast I have seen in a very long time. What is even more shocking is that her little screen time she does get is really not very flattering to her success in her career. Jason Clarke, best known for his work in Dawn of the Planets of the Apes is a major let down, delivering his line with a sense of being insincere. The entire rest of the cast, most notably the little boy that continues to over and over again become possessed by ghouls of the night, is played by an incredibly bad child actor that made me almost chuckle every time he acted.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
The house was well designed and was a great reminder of the crazy structures built inside the Winchester mansion. However the film fails to use the crazy building structure to its advantage, only ever working with it with the plot once or twice in less tense moments. The ghost makeup was ineffective for the majority of the film as it was always seen coming from a mile away. A genuine twist surprised me when a ghost suddenly appeared, but beyond that one moment of brief horror, the makeup wasn’t very noticeable. The special effects felt cheap, in a way that a popular tv show would feel, it didn’t feel like the building was really crashing down around them, but a green screen was used to make it seem that way. The illusion was barely even there and Winchester suffered from its low budget.
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
The score was fine, the usual you can come to expect in a horror film near the beginning of the year. It didn’t feel like a ton of time and effort was pursued in that department, but it worked well enough. Lots of moments lead up to a jump scare, which are some of my least favorite types of score, the ones that go crazy when the scar happens to make a last ditch effort to make you jump.
Winchester made me angry after watching it all the way through, but after reflecting on it, it’s really not as god awful as I remembered. It’s still one of the worst wide release horror films of recent memory but it’s not completely unwatchable. Winchester is almost worth watching for the eye rolling alone.