Review: Winchester: The House That Ghosts Built (2018)


Winchester: The House That Ghosts Built (2018)

Directed by: Michael Spierig, Peter Spierig | 100 minutes | fantasy, horror, thriller, biography | Actors: Helen Mirren, Sarah Snook, Finn Scicluna-O’Prey, Jason Clarke, Emm Wiseman, Alana Fagan, Rebecca Makar, Tyler Coppin, Michael Carman, Angus Sampson, Alice Chaston, Eamon Farren, Laura Brent, Adam Bowes, Bruce Spence

‘Winchester: The House That Ghosts Built’ is an effective and fun horror film about a mysterious house full of ghosts, which is said to be based on true events.

Sarah Winchester (Helen Mirren) is the widow of the founder of the famous weapons manufacturer William Winchester. After his death, she moves from the East Coast to California and builds and rebuilds a huge mansion there. Why? To exorcise the evil spirits killed by the guns the company made, of course. The story seems straight out of the pen of a mediocre horror writer, but surprisingly Sarah Winchester really existed (she died in 1923) and the house is still there, in San Jose. Sarah was also convinced that the house was possessed and that the only solution was to add more rooms and parts to the house. With no architectural experience and no plan for a renovation, she continued to break, demolish and build the house for 38 years.

Today, tours of the mysterious mansion are offered and visitors can – for a fee – also view the curious constructions that Sarah built inside. Escher would have enjoyed it: there are stairs that lead nowhere, doors behind which there is only a blank wall and endless winding corridors. Bizarre enough on its own for a good ghost story.

Back to the movie: Let’s just assume that all ghosts didn’t actually appear, but were added by the screenwriters. In addition to a live-in relative, Marion Marriott (Sarah Snook) and her young son Henry (Finn Scicluna-O’Prey), the house is also home to the evil spirit Benjamin (Eamon Farren), who is after Henry at night. Gradually we find out what drives Benjamin. Meanwhile, the Winchester factory headquarters is fed up with major shareholder Sarah’s meddling in their business goals. They send alcoholic doctor Eric Prince (Jason Clarke) to Sarah to observe and report on her mental abilities. Eric soon becomes entangled in the mysterious happenings.

Although Helen Mirren is billed as the lead actress, the real starring role is for the house – and its decoration by the set designers. In the real house it was difficult to film due to the cramped spaces, which forced the makers to recreate parts of the interior in a studio in Australia.

Directors (and twins) Michael and Peter Spierig make ‘Winchester’ a typical atmospheric horror film with a scare effect here and there. For the hardcore horror fans, the film will have few surprises or details and it won’t be extremely bloody at all. Still, the Spierig brothers manage to create a pleasantly ominous atmosphere, which keeps the film captivating. It’s not the most challenging role for Mirren, but even on her routine, it’s always a pleasure to watch her acting. The interaction with Jason Clarke is less fortunate, something in their interplay doesn’t seem to click.

All in all, a decent horror film that will please most fans of haunted locations and apparitions.

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