Winchester is loosely based on true story of the wealthy heiress Sarah Winchester (Helen Mirren) and her mansion of endless rooms, which lays claim to be the most haunted house in America.
The spirits that inhabit the house are of those who have died after being shot with a Winchester rifle, in which Sarah’s deceased husband had invented. Bound by her inheritance to the Winchester name, she and whomever stays in the house are tormented by the ghosts who seek revenge.
With such a rich history behind it, Winchester could have succeeded in so many ways, but instead directors The Spierig Brothers (just coming off the latest Saw instalment Jigsaw) decided to turn ideas that are based on actual events, into a funhouse of horrors, and depending on your expectations going in, they do just enough to keep the rollercoaster on track for the majority of the film.
Dr. Eric Price (Jason Clarke) plays a psychiatrist who is sent to evaluate Sarah Winchester’s eccentric and weird behaviour, which includes her claims of spirits telling her to keep building rooms for them. Upon arriving he is met by Sarah’s niece Marion (Sarah Snook), whose son Henry has already become a victim of possession to the spirits of the house. Dr. Price’s denied views of the paranormal quickly turn as he falls deeper into the secrets the Winchester mansion holds, including dealing with his own dark past involving his wife.
That’s about as far as the plot goes, as we are thrusted from one jump-scare scene to the next, which takes us on a grand tour of the mansion that has over 150 rooms, including 40 bedrooms. Credit must be given to the sets that were built as you actually feel like they filmed the movie in the house itself. The attention to detail is something to admire, considering that the Winchester mansion is on record for the longest construction work on a residence in history.
Whilst these facts and figures are merely touched upon, what the film mainly serves up is the paranormal activity side of events and there are parts that work more than others. A highlight being Henry’s possession scenes, which come around when you least expect them. Performance wise, there isn’t anything to write home about and considering Helen Mirren’s involvement, all isn’t as classy as one would expect. It seems Mirren can’t decide whether to ham it up or play it straight, which leaves her portrayal of Sarah Winchester somewhat treading water, which is a little disappointing. Jason Clarke and Sarah Snook do fine and give what they can but almost suffer the same fate as Mirren. This may be down to the direction, in which The Spierig Brothers succeed in some scares, but appear to be unsure of whether to take it all seriously or not.
Winchester may not be a history lesson into the heiress’ life, but that clearly isn’t the intention here as we’re given more of a carnival ride of terror, which at the very least makes for a fun night out for horror fans.
Sarah Winchester constantly built, and rebuilt the house for twenty years. The Winchester house has windows and doors in the floor, doors that open into walls or nothing, and stairs to nothing or into the ceiling.