Now listen carefully, if you feel like going to watch Winchester, then I imagine, like me, you have a soft spot for all things spooky and creepy. This is, after all, a ghost story based on a historically verifiable series of events, that has been the stuff of legends for a long time. Sure the screen writers have taken some terrible liberties with the story, but at the end of the day, if you are making a reasonably high budget scary film, for today’s cinema gong audience, then there are probably certain tropes that you have to include so you fulfill the expectations of said audience members. So to come out of a film like Winchester and say things like “It was just all jump scares”, seems a little unfair.
The story unfolds at a reasonable pace, as we follow Dr Eric Price, played by Jason Clarke, as he is hired by the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, to investigate Sarah Winchester, played by Dame Helen Mirren, who was heir to the gun making plant, and seems to have gone slightly mad in the privacy of her own ever increasing domestic home. Sarah Winchester has a DIY obsession and can’t stop adding rooms and floors to her house, to the extent it now has seven floors and over a hundred rooms. Price has to evaluate her to make sure she is still in possession of her faculties, but he himself has a mysterious connection to the house and it’s ghostly inhabitants. Cue lots of strange happenings around the place, and of course your fair share of jump scares.
Now Winchester may follow in the footsteps of traditional ghost stories, but like I said in my introduction, if you go to see a film of this nature, would you not be disappointed if it unfolded in any other way? I’m all for originality and quality in production, and honestly I feel that was on offer. For one thing, you get Dame Helen Mirren in a genre film, and she looks like she was really enjoying the process. The other cast members are all adequate, and the sets and costumes all looked fine to me. The Spierig twins that handled the direction, deliver what is expected from them, so no harm no foul. Of course once you have seen this film you will probably have forgotten it just as quick, but as far as popcorn movies go, this was “get what you pay for” fare, and why not?
Now, on the flip side of the coin, let me indulge myself for a minute, and appeal to those readers out there that enjoy a good ghost story as much as I do. Can you imagine this story if it had been made perhaps by BBC, with a much smaller budget and a more subdued director? What we would have got would have been a slow burning study of the psychological aspects of the story, with much more emphasis on the idea that perhaps Sarah was losing her mind, and the events as they played out, may have been heightened by the unstable characters of the supporting cast. It would have been much more akin to the MR James adaptations we used to get at Christmas time on the telly, and although the subject matter would have been the same it would have been a very different viewing experience. But what we did get was a Friday night scary flick at the cinema, and I’m fine with that.
Winchester is a fun night out with friends, and there’s nothing now to stop you doing your own research into the real story online, it’s creepy and unsettling and for fans of such things, it’s worth the time.