Winchester (2018)

PG-13 Running Time: 99 mins



  • Helen Mirren often makes great choices, and her starring in a horror film carries a definite appeal.

  • Jump scare aficionados, tickets are on sale now!

  • I have to admit, the concept is certainly one of the more, shall we say, original ideas I've come across in quite some time.


  • Come for the horror, stay for the jump scares, learn about the dangers of gun violence.

  • Original does not translate to good here and Winchester is so badly constructed, the movie has no earthly idea what it wants to be.

  • It's not your fault Helen Mirren. I will always give you the benefit of the doubt. I mean, no way she read the script, right? Like she just said "Cool, I'll do it." Right? RIGHT?!?!?!


Our latest entry in "Who writes this and how does it get made?", Winchester is a supernatural thriller about a woman, Sarah Winchester (Helen Mirren), convinced she is being haunted by ghosts, expanding her mansion to provide enough rooms to lock them away.

Sarah is also the majority owner of the Winchester Repeating Arms Co., a firearms manufacturer founded by her late husband. Widowed, and with her house renovations and new construction becoming an unwieldy and cost-prohibitive venture, the Board of DIrectors hires psychiatrist Eric Price (Jason Clarke) to come provide an evaluation. An ample pay day is leveraged for a "favorable" report, and Price agrees to the Board's bidding.

Set in 1906, Winchester gives us a dour, Americanized Mirren, clad in black, milling around her house under a heavy veil at all hours of the day. Workers are literally everywhere, hammering walls and building walls 24 hours a day. Her niece Marian (Sarah Snook) also resides in the home with young son Henry (Finn Scicluna-O'Prey), but Henry has become an easy target for a malevolence that possesses him in the middle of the night.

A psychiatrist. A widow. Black veils. Mentally unfit people. Mentally unstable people. Weird architecture. Malevolent ghosts. Haunted children. A Board of Directors. A corporate takeover. Winchester rifles. 

This all starts promising but unravels really quickly. And, while we are at it, Price is addicted to laudanum (a morphine/opium cocktail of sorts), is haunted by the memories of a personal tragedy, and Sarah believes these ghosts are the spirits of those killed by her own company's rifles and...

(Needle scratch).

Hold on. What?

With Winchester, we come for the jump scares and haunted house vibe, then stay for the treatise on gun violence and the guilt felt by the owner of a weapons manufacturer. With all the subtlety of a terrible, message-laden teenage play, the film tries to fit so much into its 99 minute running time, that the film has no chance at succeeding. And boy oh boy, does this thing become ludicrous in a hurry.

Directed by Michael and Peter Spierig (a/k/a The Spierig Brothers) and co-written with Tom Vaughan, the only thing the film gets right is its impressive production design. Recreating a 160 room home, with staircases that go nowhere, doors that open up to nothing, and a myriad of secret rooms and doors offering surprises at every turn, the Winchester home is a perfect setting for a suspenseful horror movie.

The house's structure and accompanying folklore alone is compelling, and the creation of the home on screen is impressive. The Spierig Brothers do give us a sense of space, giving us a decent look at the insane labyrinthine design of the Winchester home. That confusion is good. The script fog and political posturing which hangs over the rest of the film is not.

Not a whole lot actually happens in Winchester, but when it does, the now commonplace jolt of sound and music, coupled with a frightening image, is always the mechanism with which scares get delivered. In a home supposedly consumed by spirits, why do we never see what Sarah supposedly sees? When a ghost does appear (in really any of these kind of movies), why is it always (always!!) right in front of the person, yelling an ungodly sound? Shouldn't we sees thousands upon thousands of entities maneuvering through the house? Sarah routinely asks Eric if he can see what she sees. He can't. But neither can we. 

Oooohhhh, scar-eeeee!

And then the gun talk consumes the last act when a Confederate soldier's story takes hold of this increasingly meaningless endeavor. We literally see a subplot where the film seems to be saying "people don't kill people, guns kill people." Plus, Sarah is so very sorry for all the gun stuff. 

Now, all cards down on the table, I'm as large a supporter as you will find about preserving the second amendment, but implementing comprehensive gun control regulations in America. And even I could not swallow this treacly, disingenuous turn of the film.

Never have I wanted more jump scares in my life.

Winchester makes no sense. The Spierig Brothers have made a horror film about the tragedy of gun violence, set in 1906, with a woman, haunted by awful ghosts, who builds a 160-room house to lock them away, only to have her ownership in a company she feels guilty about possessing, evaluated by a guy addicted to morphine and opium cocktails?

I mean. Sure. I dunno. That's one way to go I guess.


Starring: Helen Mirren, Jason Clarke, Sarah Snook, Finn Scicluna-O'Prey, Angus Sampson, Eamon Farren, Bruce Spence, Laura Brent, Tyler Coppin, Thor Carlsson.

Director: Michael Spierig, Peter Spierig
Written by: Michael Spierig, Peter Spierig, Tom Vaughan
Release Date: February 2, 2018
CBS Films