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Blu-ray Review: Winchester

May 22, 2018

By John Corrado

★★ (out of 4)

Set in 1906 at the Winchester Mystery House, a sprawling mansion that took decades to build and is situated outside of San Francisco, Winchester follows a psychiatrist by the name of Dr. Eric Price (Jason Clarke), who goes to the house to evaluate the mental well-being of Sarah Winchester (Helen Mirren).

The heiress of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, Sarah was having the house built as a way to lock in the spirits of those who were killed by Winchester rifles, which were credited with helping the Union defeat Confederate soldiers and their muskets during the Civil War.

Continuously under construction at the time, and encasing hundreds of different rooms that are connected by a series of labyrinthian staircases and hallways, the house is home to a variety of ghosts and angry spirits that start to terrorize Dr. Eric Price, as well as Sarah’s niece Marion (Sarah Snook) and her son Henry (Finn Scicluna-O’Prey) who are also staying at the house.

Directed by Australian brothers Michael and Peter Spierig, who also worked in the horror genre on their previous films Daybreakers and Jigsaw, Winchester is somewhat of a mixed bag.  There are certainly entertaining moments here, and the film has a pair of captivating stars in the form of Helen Mirren and Jason Clarke.  The Spierig Brothers do have a good eye for stylish visuals, allowing them to stage a few clever jump scares, making good use of makeup and old school practical effects.  The production design of the house itself is also impressive, capturing the look and feel of the time period in an authentic way, which adds an appealing air of Gothic foreboding to the film.

The choice to set a horror movie inside the Winchester Mystery House, which remains a popular tourist attraction in real life, is an inspired choice in and of itself.  But Winchester just never quite adds up to more than the sum of its parts.  I found myself wishing that the filmmakers had opted for a subtler and more psychologically challenging approach to dramatizing the already fascinating true story of Sarah Winchester and her motivations to build the house, but instead this is pretty standard haunted house fare.  The film is enjoyable enough for what it is, but could have been so much better, and is somewhat disappointing considering the potential that it had.

The Blu-ray also includes the extended featurette Driven By The Spirits: The Making of Winchester, which features interviews with members of the cast and crew and provides a good overview of the production, showing how the film was mostly shot on sound stages in Melbourne where they built impressive recreations of many of the iconic rooms from the Winchester Mystery House.

Winchester is a VVS Films release.  It’s 98 minutes and rated 14A.

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