Dog’s Movie House: “Winchester Provides Solid, Old-Fashioned Thrills!”
Howdy Folks! It’s The Kendog!
The saying “they don’t make them like they used to,” is often reserved for old fuddy-duddies like me who grew up during the 80’s and have a love of all things cinematic during that time. It was the era of Spielberg, Lucas, Tobe Hooper, Richard Donner, and John Carpenter, among others. They are obviously legendary directors but the fog of nostalgia has a tendency for us to transform them into cinematic deities. As we get older, we think that nothing new could possibly compare to what came before and often we are proved right when the latest slam-bang, CGI-fueled piece of soulless entertainment comes our way. Fortunately, every once and awhile a film comes along that reminds us that, yes, they occasionally “make them like they used to.” In this case the film is “Winchester,” a good old fashioned haunted house movie.
“Winchester” takes place during 1906 and revolves around the reclusive figure of Sara Winchester (Helen Mirren), the majority shareholder of the Winchester Rifle Company. Her bizarre behavior regarding her belief in spirits and her remorse over the people her product has killed has caused the other shareholders to employ psychiatrist Eric Price (Jason Clarke) to provide an evaluation with hopes they can wrest the company from her. Price performs his evaluation at the now-famous Winchester mansion, a huge seven-story structure constantly being rebuilt with strange plans and rooms with no apparent rhyme or reason. As Price continues his investigation, it’s clear something spooky is afoot that challenges the doctor’s scientific principles.
The “inspired by a true story” nonsense aside, “Winchester” is a solid film bolstered by the performances of its two leads. Mirren is in fine form as the spiritually beleaguered Sarah, who knows she sounds crazy but is smart enough to use rational arguments to attempt to convince Price of the truth of her cause. As Price, Clarke does a fine job of credibly portraying the arc that changes him from skeptic to believer. The other cast members have their chances to shine, particularly Sarah Snook as Sarah’s protective niece and Eamon Farren as Ben Block, one of the aggrieved spirits who wander the halls of the Winchester House.
This film is not a scarefest. It takes its time and builds the tension with some fine atmosphere and decent performances. I found myself invested in the story despite the conventional and somewhat clichéd trappings of the film and enjoyed the fictional reasons for the crazy nature of the Winchester House, a place I remember visiting as teenager. If I have a complaint about “Winchester” it’s that it relies on the cheap jump scare a little too often for my taste. Directors Peter and Michael Spierig (“Jigsaw,” “Daybreakers”) have a fine classic haunted house story on their hands (they also wrote the script) and could have done more to solidify their story without the use of cheap scares.
As it stands, “Winchester” is no masterpiece, but it’s a fine way to spend a weekend afternoon in the cinema. Mirren and Clarke do fine work and the film has a spooky atmosphere that manages to hook you despite the film’s shortcomings. 3 Out Of 5 On Kendog’s Barkometer! So Sayeth The Kendog!