This show is proof that no actor is infallible, no matter how great their acting chops might be.
Winchester is the story of why the eccentric Sarah Winchester built one of the America’s most famous houses. Helen Mirren plays the grieving widow and purported mentally-unsound heiress to the Winchester firearm empire. Eager to unseat her from her share of the company, the other partners have used her feverish and meaningless project as excuse to hire Dr. Eric Price (Jason Clarke), a therapist with questionable values.
Based on the actual house in San Jose, California, the film extends the mysterious whispered stories around the endless construction, that which created a 7-storey house with architectural oddities like doors that open into walls, staircases that led nowhere, and windows that did not open.
The Spierig Brothers directs Winchester with apparent manipulation. Casting Mirren for gravitas backfires, turning floppy script into a campy outing. So too are the deliberate choices of butlers Augustine (Bruce Spence) and Ben (Eamon Farren), cashing in on their odd features. Their stiff-upper lip performances are both dated and contrived, making their appearances a tiresome watch.
Maybe worse are the niece and grandson who are temporary guests at the house. Sarah Snook and Finn Scicluna-O’Prey acting as the duo Marrion and Henry Marriot, have more interesting names than their roles. Every scene in which they appear is a rehash of the previous, reducing their purpose to nothing more than puppets in a dollhouse.
As to why only a few brief “commercial-like” vignettes showcasing the house’s peculiar nature was featured, when clearly the house itself was the real legend people wanting to explore, one may never know. This made it such that the entire story could have taken place in any other house.
But perhaps worst of all are all the cliches that we are subjected to. Exhibit number one: the “fear is only in your mind” wisdom nugget that Eric often espouses to his patients. Maybe it would be a little less cringe-worthy if it was just a random line in the script, but no. It seems that the theme is centred around it, with the doctor frequently reminding the laughing audience of this presumably deep philosophy.
The real problem with Winchester is that it doesn’t know what kind of a horror movie it should be. There’s early 20th century Nosferatu schlocky macabre going into mid-century 13 Ghosts premise. There’s also more recent influences from Insidious jump-scares to Shyamalan twists. But if so, it falls on the wrong end on all those spectrums. Winchester is unimaginative and confused, and the audience were amused more than awed.
There’s no real surprise coming from Winchester, other than how cheesy the movie is. The amateurish predictability destroys any vestige of respectability, and the myth turns Mystery House into Clown House.
The only thing legendary here is the lack of effort. A discombobulated film suffering from a terrifying identity crisis turns scares into mehs.