Winchester is a Well Made Film That Wanted to be Scary But Just Wasn’t (Review)

by | Feb 5, 2018

winchester movie

Winchester is the second Horror movie of 2018, which makes me happy.  We need more good horror and I had such high hopes for it.   But the fact that it did not provide advanced screenings did not bode well. What did you have to hide, Winchester?  Given that and the abominably low ratings from Rotten Tomatoes and IMDB, I ended up really just wanting to know why this movie was so bad.   Why all the hate?  Is it just that critics get pissy because they don’t get to see advanced screenings?  Were the special effects bad?  I mean, how could you mess up a movie based on a such a good real-life ghost story?  The only movie I’ve seen botch a premise that perfect was A Dog’s Purpose.  What are the odds it would happen twice in a decade?

Eccentric firearm heiress believes she is haunted by the souls of people killed by the Winchester repeating rifle.

The problem wasn’t the acting.  This had a fantastic cast who all did really well.  There was Jason Clarke, whom I never really noticed much until this movie but is actually quite a handsome man.  He seemed perfect for this role too as the disillusioned doctor in a bad situation.  Eamon Farren, also very good, also handsome.  Sarah Snook was fantastic, going from chilly to desperate to resolute when the situation called for it.  Finn Scicluna-O’Prey was also phenomenal in the role of her son.   And of course Helen Mirren is always a favorite, I’ve loved her since Monsters University, although apparently she did things even before that.  She was absolutely convincing as Sarah Winchester.  

It wasn’t the visuals.  I loved the set with its gorgeous nonsensical architecture and luxurious furniture.  There was good use of color and all the shots were composed really well.  It also wasn’t the writing.  The dialogue was believable, as were the characters, and the pacing was spot on.  Winchester was even the perfect length exactly – 1 hour 40 minutes.  It had a cohesive plot, chekov’s guns (some of which actually were guns) and every character had and explicit reason for doing what they were doing.  They had goals and reasonable plans to achieve said goals.  There were mysteries that were revealed and suspense that paid off. It had plot twists. The characters arked.  This was a solid script.    

I did figure it out.  Turns out the problem was that Winchester wanted to be a horror film and couldn’t pull it off.  It just wasn’t scary.  Yes there were jump scares but they were mild.  There was character helplessness and some death and gore but that was likewise pretty tepid.  Winchester was far more interested in the inner journeys of its characters than actually scaring the audience.  It did this very well.  But it promised horror and absolutely did not deliver.  It delivered all kinds of other good things but sacrificed scariness for story and emotional depth.  Horror films tend not that deep or emotionally nuanced – they usually focus on FEAR and then catharsis when source of the fear is conquered.  Winchester obviously wanted to deliver more but still REALLY wanted to be a horror film for some reason.  


So is Winchester worth watching?  Yes, I liked it. I could have done with a little more fan service but otherwise it was okay.  I mean, it’s weak as a horror film and a little too scary to be anything else, but it’s still well made and has many excellent redeeming qualities.  This movie stinks of compromise. It really felt like they made a solid film but the guy with the money insisted it be a horror film, HORROR FILM and they put in some details just to shut him up.  Some of the scary moments were half-assed and one in particular was terrifying only for a split second before it turned hilarious.  But aside from that, it was a good dramatization of what you’d expect really was happening for Sarah Winchester.

Rating: [star rating=”3″]