Plot: Sarah Winchester (Helen Mirren) has controlling interest of the Winchester gun empire, but her behavior has become erratic and as she wants to lessen the company’s reliance on firearms, the board is concerned. After all, guns are what fill the coffers, so if Sarah is deemed unfit to oversee the company, the board can return focus to firearms and by turn, larger profits. Dr. Price (Jason Clarke) is tasked to visit the Winchester home and observe Sarah, to evaluate her mental condition and it is made clear that he will be rewarded if the “correct” viewpoint is expressed. He is dealing his with own issues, such as drug addiction and the tragic death of his wife, but he tries to pull himself together to see this task through. As soon as he arrives, he sees that the mansion is under constant construction, as new rooms are designed and built around the clock, while others are torn down. Sarah claims the spirits of those the Winchester guns killed haunt the home and the rooms are to satiate them, give them a chance to make peace and move on to the other side. But is Sarah just a senile old woman with too much money to spend, or is the house truly home to hundreds of roaming spirits?
Entertainment Value: Helen Mirren in a haunted house movie is reason enough to watch Winchester, but the movie itself is a solid haunted house flick, with all the cheap scares you’d expect. The plot centers on an examination of Winchester’s mental health, but soon jumps the track and zeroes in on the ghost elements, which is where the movie finds the most success. Winchester crafts some decent atmosphere at times, but leans more on jump scares and loud noises, but given that this is a bump in the night ghost story, that makes sense. Aside from some heavy handed anti-gun moralizing, the movie is content to keep the audience on edge in anticipation of the next startling moment and those come often here. Although the home is real, the movie version is rather simple compared to the real life house, but the house itself isn’t given as much attention as I expected. I wanted more secret rooms, trap doors, dead ends, and characters being tricked and misled by the spirits, but that doesn’t happen much. Mirren is quite good as Sarah and while she dials up the melodrama a little, she brings all the morose and downbeat vibes the role requires. Jason Clarke is fun as the drug addicted doctor who gets sucked into this haunted house, while Sarah Snook and Angus Sampson also have solid smaller roles. While Winchester is a rather basic haunted house movie, it does have some fun scares and the visuals are terrific.
No nakedness. There’s a fun scene early on with Price and several lovely ladies, but it is all talk and no sleaze. Once he arrives at the house, no chances for romance arise, so the lack of naked flesh makes sense. No blood. Winchester has some tense moments with guns involved, but even when bullets are fired, no bloodshed results. The movie relies on haunted house tropes like creepy noises, jump scares, and eerie atmosphere, with little violence of any kind. The ghosts look ethereal with an otherworldly glow, but aren’t scary looking, just translucent. I don’t love when horror movies depend on cheap scares, but in a haunted house movie like this, it seems a little more appropriate than in a visceral style horror flick. The dialogue is fine and the performances are solid, but the serious tone keeps quotable or wild lines to a minimum. Mirren has some fun creepy old lady moments, but that’s about it. So a decent script, but just not the kind of over the top or memorable stuff we award points for here. On the craziness end of things, the movie softens the real life insanity involved and takes a more traditional haunted house approach, so this is never too wild or out of the ordinary.
Overall Insanity: 0/10