Once in a while, an exceptional horror film comes along, featuring a refreshingly original story, solid acting, direction that promises jump-inducing scares and a screenplay that instills a feeling of dread. Get Out was one of those films. Winchester is definitely not.
“Inspired by true events,” a phrase which has become so broad and haphazardly used as to become almost meaningless, Winchester takes place in 1906 in San Jose, Calif. Sarah Winchester (Helen Mirren), heir to her husband’s estate and 50 percent shareholder in the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, is to be examined by a mental health professional hired by the company’s board of directors. They hope that conclusive evidence of Winchester’s instability and mental illness will allow them to assume a majority stake in the company. So, they hire less-than-scrupulous doctor Eric Price (Jason Clarke), who enjoys his laudanum and has a pile of debt, to examine Mrs. Winchester and provide them with a favorable outcome.
Price takes up residence in Winchester House, a sprawling mansion where Sarah Winchester has construction crews working 24 hours a day, 365 days a year adding and removing rooms, building staircases to nowhere and generally creating an architect’s nightmare. Winchester’s niece Marian Marriott (Sarah Snook) and her young son Henry (Finn Scicluna-O'Prey) are also in residence, and Henry has been troubled with frightening visions and dangerous somnambulant excursions. Upon Price’s arrival, things immediately start to go bump in the night, but he (and we) are not sure if these are caused by ghosts, or if it’s just the pesky laudanum at work.
Those in the audience who manage to stay awake will find out why Winchester is so construction-crazy, what is troubling young Henry and what happened in Price’s past to give him PTSD and cause him to carry around an engraved bullet. But we have to suffer through dark, unimaginative direction, lackluster acting and a story we’ve seen time and time again. It’s a wonder that Mirren signed up for this role. Perhaps she wanted to try something a little different, maybe she wanted a free trip to Australia, where most of the movie was filmed, or, like Dr. Price, she may have needed a quick buck. Regardless, she needn’t be embarrassed for too long, as nobody will remember Winchester once it skulks out of theaters.