I'll be honest; so far, 2018 has not been the greatest year for horror movies.

That's a damning way to open a review, I know, but that's the main takeaway I get from Winchester. That's not to say the film is bad, it's just nothing special.

Winchester opens with a creepy child scene, and right off the bat I was beyond worried. If you remember my review of Insidious: The Last Key in January, that film started with the same kind of cliches, and I almost walked out of the theater for that one. Winchester isn't as bad, but when the first scare of the movie is a little kid standing ominously at the end of a hallway it's hard to be hopeful.

This movie tells the story of Sarah Winchester, the real-life heir of the fortune created by the sale of Winchester rifles in the 1800's. After her husband died, she moved to California and began construction on a monstrous house, that saw additions added to it almost every day of the year for decades. Legend has it that Sarah believed she was haunted by the ghosts of those killed by Winchester weaponry, and the house was designed to either confuse or placate the spirits.

CBS Films via YouTube
CBS Films via YouTube

Winchester begins with Doctor Eric Price (Jason Clarke), who has been retained by the Winchester Repeating Arms company to conduct a psychological evaluation on Mrs. Winchester (Helen Mirren), as she owns more than 50 percent of the company and the board of directors is unhappy with how she handles things. Mrs. Winchester agrees to the evaluation, and so Dr. Price comes to stay at the Winchester mansion, where spooky things begin to happen.

Now, I have to say I absolutely love the concept for this film. In horror, ghost stories are pretty played out, but the story of Sarah Winchester is one of the most fascinating I've heard. As well, the idea of a horror film set in a 7 story sprawling mansion like this one is interesting. To be truthful though, what drew me most to Winchester was the fact that Dame Helen Mirren is in it. How the hell did the casting director swing that?

Speaking of Mirren, she is absolutely the shining light in Winchester; without her, this film would be unbearable. She does an admirable job with the material she is given, and really sells the character of a woman haunted both literally and figuratively by her past, and what her family has done. Almost any time she's on screen, I can glean some enjoyment from this movie.

The problem comes from everything else surrounding Helen Mirren, though; for most of the film, the character focus is on Doctor Eric Price, and I find him an annoying, flat, unsympathetic character. I suppose Jason Clarke does a decent job, if the character was supposed to be unlikable. I'm not sure about that though.

CBS Films via YouTube
CBS Films via YouTube

When you step back from Winchester's concept, though, you're left with an incredibly paint by numbers PG-13 horror film. Jumpscares galore, spooky children, ghosts and spirits that operate by vague and malleable rules, it drags on and on. The ending of this film is incredibly frustrating due to these problems.

It's really a shame that the filmmakers decided to go this way. The life of Sarah Winchester is a fascinating one, and I think a film focused more on her would have been more satisfying. You could have gone in a direction like The Shining, where the tension and drama in the film comes from wondering whether the character is losing their mind due to grief and other things, or whether a haunting is actually happening.

Instead, I feel Winchester went the easy route, and ultimately the more disappointing one. The concept, and Helen Mirren, deserve better.

If you're a fan of the PG-13 Horror film, I'd recommend Winchester, but beyond that I'd avoid it.

See the trailer below.

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