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Review: Winchester

Horror films are a dime a dozen, but few had the intrigue or potential of Winchester. Telling a classic ghost story with acting heavyweights like Helen Mirren involved creates an instant level of intrigue. Despite some strong moments, Winchester is a largely frustrating flick that squanders its limitless potential.

Winchester follows the Winchester family, who has gained massive success from their repeating rifles. Along with that success though has come torment, as their famed house has become a home for angry spirits who died at the hands of their rifles.

I’ve made my adoration for The Spierg Brothers no secret, especially after creating the best crafted Saw film with JigsawThe duo have an understanding of genre films and plenty of raw technical ability, often utilizing low budgets to make inspired films. With Winchester, the duo try to create a more old-school, gothically-inspired flick, with the slow-cooked atmosphere unnerving audiences until the grand finale. There are moments where its effective, as the film’s opening is eerie and masterfully executed. Every detail from the precise framing to the daunting moonlight that peaks into the house set the mood effectively.

Winchester certainly has its heart in the right place, as its one of the rare horror films that values its characters just as much as scares. Much of the film is focused on a force more haunting than any ghost, that being guilt of costing lives. It certainly helps having great actors like Mirren and Jason Clarke, who imbue some gravitas into this material. While conceptually-strong, its a shame that the script ultimately lets these actors (and the film itself) down.

The greatest shame is that its The Spierg Brothers (who contributed re-writers to Tom Vaughan’s originally script) that undo their greatest strengths. After a strong opening, the film quickly stagnates as the story gets going. Scenes that are trying to spark intrigue or mystery ultimately fail, with their predictable results and dull dialogue failing to breath much life into these moments. It’s such a disappointment seeing skilled actors straddled with such middling roles, as the script doesn’t give these characters any sort of development or dramatic weight. The film’s main theme, while promising, lacks the nuance to have any emotional punch.

For a film that intends to be more of an old-school ghost story, its shocking just how many poorly-executed jump scares are present. Jump scares are the bane of any horror fan’s existence, as its the cheapest possible way to get a rise out of the audience. These moments are not even remotely scary, and their presence becomes more grating by the scare.

While the film earns some points back with an effective conclusion, Winchester ends up as a frustrating mixed bag, lacking the material nor scares to bring this grand story to life. I hope The Spierg Brothers can rebound from here, as the two still are extremely talented craftsman.

Grade: C+ 

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