Winchester Blu-ray Review
Written by Steve Pattee
Blu-ray released by Lionsgate Home Entertainment
Directed by The Spierig Brothers (Michael Spierig and Peter Spierig)
Written by Tom Vaughan and The Spierig Brothers
2018, 99 minutes, Rated PG-13
Released on May 1st, 2018
Helen Mirren as Sarah Winchester
Sarah Snook as Marion Marriott
Finn Scicluna-O'Prey as Henry Marriott
Jason Clarke as Dr. Eric Price
“Inspired by true events” is a quick way for me to roll my eyes when watching a horror film, but in the case of Winchester, the line actually works. Based on the real-life Winchester House, Winchester speculates on what Sarah Winchester saw while she was building and residing in the mansion. If you aren’t familiar with either Sarah or the house, basically after her husband died in 1891, Sarah inherited over $20 million dollars and almost 50% control of the gun manufacturer, Winchester Repeating Arms Company. At some point, she had lost her daughter too, and under the advice of a medium, Sarah started continuously building a house for those who died from a Winchester rifle. I’ve read different things from she would die if she stopped working on the house to she did it to confuse the spirits. Who knows, it’s a good story no matter what, and one that Winchester tries to tell.
The great Helen Mirren stars as Sarah Winchester, the woman doomed to spend the rest of her life putting additions on her home. Dr. Eric Price (Jason Clarke, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) is hired by Winchester Repeating Arms Company to determine Sarah’s mental stability (in the film she owns 51% of the company, so they no doubt want that control back). Oddly, though, it is Sarah who chose Dr. Price, not the board, and there’s a particular reason why she selected him. Once he arrives at the house, and he’s given the house instructions from Sarah’s exasperated niece Marion (Sarah Snook, Jessabelle), no time is wasted before he starts seeing some whacked out things himself. Soon things escalate into an all-out war with Sarah and Dr. Price on one side and a malevolent spirit seeking revenge on the other.
You know that scene in Thir13en Ghosts (2001) where they see the imprisoned ghosts and how that is the most memorable part of the movie? Winchester could have been the film that ran with that sort of thing, but doesn’t. Instead, it only lightly touches on some of the spirits trapped within the house and concentrates fully on one; the main cause of the entire ruckus. This wouldn’t be so bad, but the movie takes entirely too long to get to the source of the problem and when it does, it feels like an afterthought. It’s as if someone said, “Hey guys, the movie’s almost over and we haven’t introduced a big bad yet? What? Just throw in a random story? Got it!” Don’t get me wrong, the reasoning of the antagonist is sound, but it’s not developed.
This is unfortunate too because the cast of Winchester is rock solid. Helen Mirren is in this for crying out loud. She’s always a delight to watch and if she only had a (much) stronger script, this movie would have blown up. There is so much lost potential it’s frustrating. Winchester spends too much time trying to get you to care about Dr. Price (his backstory is melodramatic at best and the way someone from his past is revealed is eye-roll-inducing) that by the time you get to the pivotal confrontation, you just want the film to hurry up and be over – which, ironically enough, does exactly that.
The worst of it is Winchester was written and directed by The Spierig Brothers (Michael and Peter), and having really enjoyed two of their prior films, Daybreakers and Undead, I figured I’d enjoy the heck out of this, what with its built-in story and cast selection. Sadly, it wasn’t meant to be.
Winchester does manage to work in a few scary moments (not including a few of the jump-scares, something I wish would just go away), but on the whole it brings nothing new to the table. It doesn’t even reach mediocrity, which is unfortunate because there’s a wealth of history in the real story that certainly something better could have been created.
Video and Audio:
While Winchester fails at entertaining, the presentation is fantastic. The film is beautifully shot and the video complements that nicely, with lush blacks, impressive small-object detail and natural colors throughout.
The DTS-HD 5.1 soundtrack is equally impressive with a great use of the surrounds for effects.
Outside of some offered trailers there is a 22-minute featurette. The majority of it is your standard behind-the-scenes fluff, but it is cool listening and watching the crew discuss working in the actual Winchester house.