‘Winchester’ is about as scary as a small child yelling ‘rawr’

Ty Davis

By the end of the film, the patron sitting one seat over from me saw me writing notes and asked if I was a reviewer. After I confirmed I was a reviewer he asked me if it was just him or film was really as terrible as he thought. He was not alone though, at two separate moments during the film I could hear someone laughing.

The infamous Winchester house located in California. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

“Winchester” is based on a real location in San Jose, California, now dubbed the “Winchester Mystery House” because of the house’s massive size, labyrinthian lay out and strange history.

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Under the orders of Sarah Winchester, the widow to the heir of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, the house would be under constant construction from 1866 until Winchester’s death in 1922. Supposedly, Winchester did this on the advice of medium who told her there was curse on her family due to their ownership of company of that produced guns responsible for the deaths of so many lives. The medium told Winchester this curse was responsible for taking the lives of her daughter and husband, and that should she ever stop construction on the house the spirits of those killed by the Winchester firearms would become displeased.

Only a few parts of the plot are actually true. The house was partially destroyed by an earthquake in 1906, the house was under constant construction and Sarah Winchester did have a fear of the supernatural. For all intents and purposes, the rest of the story is complete fiction.

To be brief, the board of directors for the Winchester Repeating Arms Company doubts the sanity of Sarah Winchester, played by Helen Mirron, prompting them to hire Jason Clarke’s Eric Price, a notable psychiatrist with substance abuse issues. However, to make a full assessment of Winchester, Price insists he must stay in the Winchester house for a few days.

If the audience has seen any horror film in their life or has basic grasp of storytelling and narrative tropes, then they already know the basic points of the film long before the first act is even finished. A skeptical man of science has to deal with a situation that seemingly defies logical explanation and the people who believe in the supernatural only to end up questioning his own beliefs and eventually realizing that the supernatural is real.

Everything about the story is predictable right up to the supporting characters, who have very little in terms of personality, except to convey that something is wrong with the whole situation. The only characters with any personality are Eric Price and Sarah Winchester, the diligent, skeptical, drug addict and the more intelligent than she appears, forthright, matriarch.

Nothing about the story is interesting enough to make it notable, and certainly not stand out among other horror films. The story is generic, and no elements add a crucial factor or spin on the material that could have made for an interesting watch. Because the film is essentially a work of fiction, aside from three key aspects, the filmmakers had the liberty to craft virtually any story they wanted but did not take the opportunity to do something unique with the source material. For instance, what if instead of the main antagonist being ghosts, the whole situation was an elaborate ploy to put Sarah Winchester’s sanity in question and thus relieve her of her majority stake in the company?

“Winchester” will be shown on Wednesday, Feb. 7 at the Cinemark Fort Collins 16 theater at 11:15 a.m., 1:55 p.m. 4:35 p.m.  7:15 p.m. and 9:55 p.m.

The film tries to emphasize the house as the main draw of the film, but the house ends up being totally underutilized as a setting. The house is built up to be an eclectic labyrinth yet Price and most of the support characters seem to have no trouble navigating it all. Also, the film almost exclusively takes place in the same handful of rooms and corridors without exploration of the rest of the house.

For that matter, no information is ever really discovered throughout the story. Most of the time is dedicated to the back and forth between Price and Winchester, and as such forgets to steadily reveal crucial information that would progress the plot, resulting in large exposition dumps where Winchester just outright gives the crux of the story away. During the final showdown between Winchester, Price and the antagonist, I was surprised to not hear Winchester just outright say “use the crucial plot device that will solve this whole situation.”

Winchester’s ineptitude extends from storytelling to its horror. Usually I am easily worked up during horror films, but Winchester never managed to even make me feel nervous.  In fact, Winchester seems to actively want to sabotage any sense of suspense and scariness it may have had. Jump scares are so clearly telegraphed from musical ques and context they can be spotted whole minutes before they even happen.

The film switches from “horror” to benign scenes so frequently it effectively kills an sort of tension the previous horror scene may have built. There is no active sense of dread or suspense throughout the entire film, mainly because the antagonist is so forthright instead of being a mysterious, nebulous threat. 

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Should you watch it? No. 

Do not even consider spending your money on this movie.

Ty Davis can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com or @tydavisACW