When I heard that Helen Mirren was starring in a horror film, I thought: she’s either doing this for the money or this could be a rare horror hit aimed at an older audience. After seeing “Winchester” it’s now clear what her motivation was for taking this role.
Set in 1906 in San Jose, California, “Winchester” is based on the true story of one of the most notorious haunted houses in the long history of haunted houses. Sarah Winchester (played by Mirren) owns the home. She’s the widow of William Winchester, the man behind the famous Winchester rifle company.
With William now gone, Sarah’s niece and her son have come to stay with her in the 7-story, 100+-room mansion. Why so big? Because there are spirits that visit Sarah – many even have their own rooms as regular guests.
“Winchester” is less of a horror movie and more of a history lesson on firearms, the Civil War and this mysterious house. It would certainly make for an interesting half-hour special on the Biography Channel, but as a feature-length film, this effort from German directors The Spierig Brothers is dull and uninspired.
The scattered script is stretched to fill the time. Jason Clarke’s Dr. Pryce, brought in to determine if Old Lady Winchester has gone cuckoo, does a lot of walking around the house, encountering creepy ghosts who randomly pop-out at him. And once we figure out, fairly quickly, that Mrs. Winchester isn’t as crazy as others believe, there’s really no suspense – including throughout the extensive climax.
Mirren doesn’t show-up until about 20 minutes into the movie and has far less screen time than Clarke. Neither will be highlighting this on their filmographies.
And the scares aren’t creative: I laughed more than I jumped. But unfortunately, there’s nothing in “Winchester”, including Mirren’s flat dialogue, that elevates the film to guilty pleasure status. It simply misses the target.