‘Terror is building’
Winchester – formerly Winchester: The House That Ghosts Built – is a 2018 supernatural horror film directed directed by Michael and Peter Spierig (Jigsaw; Predestination; Daybreakers) from a screenplay co-written with Tom Vaughan (Playing House). The CBS Films production stars Helen Mirren, Jason Clarke, Sarah Snook and Angus Sampson.
Firearm heiress Sarah Winchester (Helen Mirren) was convinced that she was haunted by the souls killed at the hands of the Winchester Repeating Rifle.
After the sudden deaths of her husband and child, she threw herself into overseeing the 24-hours a day, seven days a week construction of an enormous mansion designed to keep the evil spirits at bay.
To the outsider it looks like a monstrous monument to a disturbed woman’s madness. But Sarah is not building for herself, for her niece (Sarah Snook) or for the brilliant Doctor Eric Price (Jason Clarke) whom she has summoned to the house. She is building a prison, an asylum for hundreds of vengeful ghosts, and the most terrifying among them have a score to settle with the Winchesters…
“Thankfully, Winchester leveled my unfair expectations simply by being both silly and fun. Most of the film is genuinely atmospheric, thanks especially to the omnipresent construction noises that surround the house, like hammers on chisels, or saws into wood planks. And several set pieces are also fairly well-choreographed, particularly the one where a rifle slowly but surely fires right next to Mirren’s head.” Simon Abrams, RogerEbert.com
“Mirren does all she can to look like she’s having fun, but Winchester isn’t a movie about acting. It’s a grab bag of a spook show in which the Spierig brothers never do figure out a way to turn the Winchester Mystery House into an exhilarating movie set. It’s more like a hardwood maze that traps us.” Owen Gleiberman, Variety
“It’s a treat to see Mirren go all-out in the horror genre, and she battles the creaky script with an always- watchable performance. Clarke is game too, injecting life into a potentially dull audience surrogate despite a distractingly inconsistent accent. His unreliability is signalled early on — is he really seeing spirits or just tripping off the laudanum?” Ben Travis, Empire
“When it comes to the jump scares, Winchester is mostly competent if unremarkable in the way that its constructs these creepy sequences. Unfortunately, what suspense the film manages to generate over the course of its first two acts dissipates in the final third, once Winchester goes from being quietly atmospheric to loud and over the top.” Sandy Schaefer, Screen Rant
“You’ve seen all the tropes – little kid jolted awake by noise while mom sleeps soundly, peeping character gets scared, emotional weight becomes savior’s tool – and they’ve been equally executed. I do think less involved horror audiences may appreciate this terrifying trip to California considerably more, yet for 100-horror-flick-a-year psychos like myself, predictability is an ugly finish on these walls.” Matt Donato, We Got This Covered
“A staggeringly pointless supernatural non-chiller featuring some very tiresome jump scares. People with latex skin conditions and demon-eyes are always JUMPING! out at you out of nowhere and then disappearing, leaving behind the same atmosphere of listless boredom.” Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian
“Aside from three days of shooting at the real Mystery House, the Spierigs filmed everything in their native Australia, conjuring up the house’s mind-warping MC Escher interiors using soundstages and visual effects. Mirren always brings a touch of class, of course, even to deluxe schlock like this. But Clarke is something of a blank leading man, while the secondary characters are mostly pale phantoms sleepwalking through a thinly drawn plot.” Stephen Dalton, The Hollywood Reporter
“The talented actors get lost in the hardwood maze of the set. Mirren — who has played her share of historical personages in gloomy rooms — at least manages to look appropriately wide-eyed and concerned. But the brawny Clarke looks as though he’s been forced to wear someone else’s burlap underwear. And, despite volleys of abrupt noises, tolling bells and scabby faces appearing in mirrors, suspense is undetectable.” Liam Lacey, Original Cin
“With some incredible source material, this film would have made an unbelievably perfect slow-burn gothic horror flick. Instead, it settles as a jump scare fest meant to appeal to the younger crowd. There is no sense of surprise with any of the scares in this movie as they are done in the most predictable way possible.” B4 Reviews
“Sibling directors Michael and Peter Spierig establish the requisite creepy atmosphere with creaky doors, flickering lights, and a barrage of bizarre sounds and visions, almost always accompanied by shrieking music cues. Despite some scattered frights, the film relies mostly on technical gimmicks and jump scares rather than building genuine suspense.” Todd Jorgenson, Cinemalogue
Cast and characters:
- Helen Mirren as Sarah Winchester – Monsters University; The Twilight Zone (1985)
- Jason Clarke as Eric Price – Terminator Genisys, Zero Dark Thirty
- Sarah Snook – Jessabelle
- Angus Sampson – Insidious franchise; Mad Max: Fury Road; Darkness Falls
- Laura Brent as Ruby – Transylvania
- Tyler Coppin as Arthur Gates – Predestination; Nightmares & Dreamscapes: From the Stories of Stephen King; Mad Max 2
- Dawayne Jordan
- Jeffrey W. Jenkins
- Thor Carlsson
- Xavier Gouault
- John Lobato
San Jose and San Francisco, California, USA
Docklands Studios, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
The film was initially known as The 13th Hour.