★★ out of ★★★★★
A spook show with too many spooks?
Directed by the Spierig Brothers
A story so scary it’s true! Hmmm…where have we heard that before. But wait, it’s really true. The 2018 horror film Winchester tells the truly true story of famed occultist Sarah Winchester and her penchant for interior design. Sarah Winchester was the heiress to the Winchester gun fortune and spent the better part of nearly 30 years building, and building, and building. One room on top of the other. Sarah was allegedly convinced that she was cursed by the trappings of the gun fortune and that the only way to ameliorate her supernatural feelings was to continually build on to her already sprawling California mansion. That’s pretty much where the fact ends and fiction starts.
2018’s Winchester follows opium addled psychiatrist Dr. Eric Price (Jason Clarke of 2019’s Pet Sematary remake) who’s been asked, by the Winchester corporation, to go check on Sarah (Oscar award winner, Helen Mirren) and her growing interest in the occult and construction. His goal is to construct a psychological profile of Sarah to help assuage the fears of the Winchester investors. Sarah’s pulling down a health chunk of change each month — to the tune of about $25,000 in 2019 dollars — and everyone wants to make sure that the monies are going to a…good cause.
A doped up Dr. Price arrives on the scene and meets up with Sarah’s niece Marion and her son Henry. Henry too has a bit of the paranormal. He’s got a spate of the glassy eyes, the evil spirit, and he’s got a tendency to put a burlap sack on his head and wander around the endless corridors of the byzantine Winchester Mansion. As Dr. Price begins his inquisition of Sarah and her psychological state the spooks begin to come out of the woodwork — 13 to be precise. Sarah discloses that the Winchester Mansion is being haunted by a super-spook, Benjamin Block, who was a confederate soldier whose brothers came to their untimely demise on the wrong end of Winchester rifles. Yes, those Winchester rifles. Benjamin is deeply unsatisfied with the Winchester product and its remaining heir Sarah Winchester. He, and the other spooks lurking about in the house — whose story never really gets told — decide to up their collective spook game, but not before the entire Winchester Mansion is befallen by THE 1906 San Francisco earthquake.
Apparently, it wasn’t enough that the Windchester House was haunted, or that Sarah Winchester was a bonafide occultist, or the fact that the Dr. sent to look after Sarah was hopped up on goofballs, or the fact that Sarah’s great nephew was possessed, or the fact that a Civil War alpha spook is out for revenge, or the fact that the film culminates with the 1906 quake. That’s pretty much the problem with the entire film. It couldn’t really decide where it wanted to go, or what story it needed to follow. The basic Winchester story and Sarah’s interest in the occult was frankly enough. There was no need for the directors, the Spierig Brothers (Undead), to concoct a series of deeply disconnected red herrings. The 13 spooks are somehow related to Benjamin Block, but it’s never clear how. Benjamin is a spook as a result of dying by the hands of a Winchester rifle, but beyond that, it’s entirely unclear why he’s taken on the role of the alpha spook. Focusing solely on Sarah’s plight, her interest in the occult, and her rifle fortune guilt, could, in and of itself, have made for a fully compelling spook show.
Winchester does have some solid jump scares. In fact, that’s really the only thing going for it. If you’re a sucker for the same jump scare over and over, then we here at the Scariest Things Podcast, recommend this flick for you. However, if you require an actual story to go along with your jump scares you’ll need to look elsewhere. This just isn’t your film.
Winchester is PG-13 and currently streaming everywhere.