Movie Review: “Winchester” (PG-13)
The Spierig Brothers, the creative storytellers behind the outstanding sci-fi tinged vampire actioneer “Daybreakers” and the grossly underappreciated time travel flick “Predestination,” follow-up their less than stellar “Saw” entry, “Jigsaw,” with “Winchester,” a haunted-house thriller that is ultimately done in by a heavy-handed message about gun control. Clearly, guns don’t kill people … ghosts do!
Loosely based on a true story (with an emphasis on “loosely”), this ghostly thriller weaves its tale around Sarah Winchester, the widowed wife of the man behind the popular firearms brand. After inheriting the Winchester estate, Sarah is convinced that she has been cursed and will live the rest of her days being haunted by the souls of individuals killed by Winchester rifles; therefore, she continues adding on to her massive abode so that she might house the many restless spirits that continue to arrive there. Of course, this haunting theory and Sarah’s increasingly erratic behavior don’t sit well with the members of the Winchester board, so they send in renowned psychiatrist Eric Price (Jason Clarke) to examine the woman. As it turns out, Eric has a few problems of his own, but those issues quickly take on a new life once he arrives at the massive Winchester mansion.
No matter which side of the gun control debate you might find yourself on, you’re likely to find the message at the heart of this movie to be wildly over the top. Politics aside, though, “Winchester” is lacking in sufficient scares, and given that this is a ghost story, that isn’t a good thing.
It’s a shame, really, because with “Daybreakers” and “Predestination,” Michael Spierig and his brother Peter had interesting stories to go along with their outstanding world-building skills. With “Winchester,” they’ve captured the eerie beauty of the mansion and even unload a couple of nifty set pieces, but overall, they squander their beautiful production design with a story that offers few to no surprises.
The performances are fine. Clarke is solid as a drug-addicted skeptic with a tragic past, lovely veteran Helen Mirren hams it up as a woman coming to terms with the fact that she’ll be haunted until her dying days, and Sarah Snook has a few nice moments as a single mother trying to protect her troubled son. These actors are unable to rise above the film’s shortcomings, however.
That said, “Winchester” is far from terrible, and given the choice, I’d probably choose it over the last “Insidious” film, but honestly, that’s faint praise. The Spierig Brothers are super talented and capable of so much more. Here’s hoping we’ll get to see that talent in whatever their next project might be.