Saturday, May 5, 2018

Winchester - Truth May Not Be Stranger Than Fiction But Is Definitely More Interesting Sometimes

When I first saw the Winchester trailer back in January, there were reasons for high hopes. Music with high pitch crashing chords, blood running down the walls and a dead eyed child creepily singing an otherwise innocent song. This is the bread and butter of a decent gothic, horror movie. Add in the classy Helen Mirren and the fascinating true story of the Winchester house and you have a good chance of going above and beyond the genre.

Set in 1906, Winchester centers around Sarah Winchester (Helen Mirren) who is heir to her husband's fortune built by the invention of the Winchester rifle. Driven by guilt that her privileged life has flourished on the countless deaths caused by her husband's invention, she develops an obsession with spiritualism and an out of this world home renovation project. The Winchester house with it's confounding floor plan, staircases to nowhere and countless false doors is meant to be a final resting place or in some cases a prison for the souls of those killed by the rifle.

Against this backdrop we meet Dr. Price (Jason Clarke), a psychologist hired by the Winchester company to evaluate Sarah with the sole purpose of having her declared incompetent; so that they can take full control of the business. Dr. Price has a troubled and tragic past, a lot of debt and an addiction to laudanum (had to look it up too and it's basically the Victorian version of Oxycontin). He is a skeptic about the whole ghost thing but soon finds himself staggering around the deranged M.C. Esher style house constantly bumping into things that go bump in the night.

I started this review talking about all of the potential and unfortunately have to close by telling you that a lot of it is wasted. The story meanders and the acting talents of Mirren and Clarke are hampered by a sometimes painfully corny script. The deeper story about Sarah's guilt doesn't go deep enough and probably only serves to give uncomfortable chills to NRA members in the audience. What I'm describing plagues about three quarters of the movie but I will concede that the pace picks up and delivers some thrills in the last half hour. It really does feel like somebody injected some cohesion into the script when it all comes together and we find out what is actually going on in the Winchester house. My final score on this is a C. Give it a viewing sometime, knowing that you'll shrug it off pretty easily and not really have interest in repeating the experience.