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 claims to be based on true facts.
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 an enormous mansion there. Why? To ward off 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 actually existed (she died in 1923) and the house is still there, in San José. Sarah was also convinced that the house was possessed and that the only solution was to add more rooms and parts to the house. Without any 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 structures Sarah made inside. Escher would have enjoyed it: there are stairs that go nowhere, doors that only have a blank wall behind and endless winding corridors. In itself bizarre enough for a good ghost story.
Back to the movie, we’re just assuming that all the ghosts didn’t actually appear, but were added by the screenwriters. In addition to a live-in family member, Marion Marriott (Sarah Snook) and her son Henry (Finn Scicluna-O’Prey), the house also haunts the evil spirit Benjamin (Eamon Farren), who is after Henry at night. Gradually we find out what drives Benjamin. Meanwhile, the Winchester factory headquarters are quite fed up with major shareholder Sarah’s interference in their business goals. They send alcoholic physician Eric Prince (Jason Clarke) to Sarah to observe and report on her mental capacities. Eric soon becomes entangled in the mysterious events.
Although Helen Mirren is billed as the lead actress, the real starring role is for the house – and its decoration by the set designers. Filming was difficult in the real house because of the tight spaces, which forced the makers to recreate parts of the interior in a studio in Australia.
Directors (and twins) Michael and Peter Spierig turn “Winchester” into a typical atmospheric horror film with a scare effect here and there. For the hardcore horror fans, the film will have few surprises or special features and it will not be extremely bloody at all. Yet the Spierig brothers manage to create a pleasant ominous atmosphere, which keeps the film fascinating. 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 happy, something in their interplay does not seem to click.
All in all, a decent horror film that will appeal to most fans of spooky locations and ghostly apparitions.