After the earthquake of 1906, the Winchester mansion in California had partially collapsed. The owner, Sarah Winchester (Helen Mirren), constantly renovates it. She is the widow to William Winchester, the treasurer for the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. Since his death, she owns 50 per cent of the company – but the board is worried about her mental state. Drug-taking, hooker-loving doctor Eric Price (Jason Clarke) is called to make a psychological assessment, to see if she’s fit to manage her part of the business. She claims to see the ghosts of those killed by the organisation’s Winchester rifles. Though doubtful, Price sees them too.
Even if one was entertained by the exhausted sceptic-turned-believer story, Eric Price is probably the most tedious incarnation. When he responds to other characters, he has nothing more interesting to offer than an awkward “yes”. Even worse, this character is prioritised above Sarah Winchester – who we learn almost nothing about. During her sessions with the doctor, the questions are constantly about him, cutting to the next scene before we can learn anything about her. The other characters are exceedingly bland, delving into ancient clichés with possessed children and dodgy butlers – all looking ripped out of Scooby-Doo.
In Jigsaw, the Spierig Brothers could rely on the prospect of sliced limbs. But in Winchester, they can’t figure out how to create fear without elaborate torture devices. Even the jump-scares are among the most predictable put to cinema: noise, turn around, nothing there, turn around again, BOO! The script by Tom Vaughn (re-written by the Spierig Brothers) also tries to promote a poignant message about gun control in America, but none of the ghosts are given the empathy they need for such shoehorned politics to be effective.
Winchester is a mediocre ghost story, empty of the fear and intrigue needed to enhance the otherwise mundane premise. The performances aren’t even engaging enough to excite the audience into the narrative, with Mirren being the most surprising example. She offers no tension, tears, or conflict – appearing as nothing more than a kooky grandmother. As ghost movies go, this is about as scary as Casper.
Winchester is released nationwide on 2nd February 2018.
Watch the trailer for Winchester here: