Friday, February 2, 2018

Winchester Review: A Traditional,albeit Tamed, Ghost Story

When it comes to horror you can never go wrong with a good ghost story. The concept of haunted houses and the specters that dwell in them have played a vital role in the genre and continues to do so even to this day. Over the years there have been many types of ghost stories depicted on the silver screen, and among these tales are ones that are based on real haunted houses. The concept of a “Based on True Events” horror film can be effective by blending both fiction and reality; and the latest film to play with this idea is a movie called Winchester. Directed by Michael and Peter Spierig, Winchester centers on the events that would turn a mansion into the famous Winchester Mystery House. On a dark and cold night I ventured to the theater to see this ghostly tale, and after enduring all the frights I found myself moderately pleased with Winchester.

Winchester centers on the Eric Price (Jason Clarke): a doctor who is tasked to go to a San Jose mansion in order to diagnose Sarah Winchester (Helen Mirren). Once arriving at the mansion Price discovers the reason behind its construction and why it is called “The House That Ghosts Built”. As plots to horror movies go, the story of Winchester was pretty simple. The narrative was quite typical as it played with familiar elements such as a skeptic being haunted by unknown forces.  However the story was able to conjure up some merits as it did play with some interesting concepts. The idea of reality vs. illusions played a prominent part in the story as Doctor Pine’s addiction to drugs helped to create a sense of deniability behind the ghostly visions; and this was just one of the elements that created a manner of mystery within the plot and in doing so it made the story quite compelling. However what prevented these factors from flourishing was the movie’s fast paced structure. The pacing prevented the story from exploring its ideas while making moments such as climax feel rushed-which was upsetting as the conclusion had all the makings of being a great finale for a horror film.

When thinking of horror films the names Helen Mirren and Jason Clarke are not ones that I would consider for the genre,but sure enough that is what happened in Winchester and I cannot say it was a bad decision.. Both Mirren and Clarke brought their A games in this film as their performances made the characters of Sarah Winchester and Eric Price two captivating leads. Although I did wish Sarah Winchester had a little more development to her, but she was still effective nonetheless. The supporting cast was minimal but decent for the movie; which was evident in Sarah Snook’s role as Sarah’s niece. As for the villainous ghost the ghoul was an effective specter, but I did wish there was a little more character to the supernatural being-granted it did have character so that is saying something.

When it came to scares Winchester was frightening up to a point. The movie certainly had the atmosphere for a ghost story but it was held back due to its use of jump scares. The jump scares were too common and many of them either suffered from fake outs or extensive delivery. Although there were a few moments that caught me off guard so not every jump scare suffered from this problem. One factor that helped the movie’s horror was the set. The Winchester Mystery House was unique to say the least as its design made it a haunted mansion that stood out from the rest. Another beneficial factor for the movie, although not as prominent as others, was the cinematography by Ben Nott. While some shots looked generic others were quite effective as certain moments (particularly the opening scene) felt reminiscent to that of the classic Hammer films; which is never a bad look for a horror movie.

In the end Winchester was not the most haunting affair. What held the movie back was its execution in factors such as the story and horror which left much to be desired. However this is not to say the film was ineffective in its presentation. Despite its problem this horror film had many attributes going for it; like having good ideas in its plot, the strong performances and an eerie atmosphere that was created through its set and cinematography. In many ways Winchester was a traditional ghost story that,though it may not have been the most frightening of experiences, still managed to live up to its respected sub genre. 

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