Review – Winchester

The Spierig Brothers continue their output after last year’s Jigsaw with the new genre offering Winchester. A haunted house with Helen Mirren has a few unearthly delights up its sleeve for those that like a bump in the night but is hampered by an opening hour that’s stuck in second gear.

Points and accolades must go to this movie that cost $3.5m to produce and was done entirely in Melbourne with Australian crew and majority cast. Every cent of that budget is most definitely on the screen. There’s no way you could’ve pulled this off on that budget in the U.S.. There’s something kinda special about the production for a domestic point of view, the physicality of it and its lushness are a credit to all the local practitioners involved.

It’s 1906 San Francisco and the Winchester Rifle Company’s widowed matriarch Sarah Winchester (Helen Mirren) lives her days as a recluse in the family’s opulent and excessive mansion relentlessly rebuilding and adding rooms to its somewhat enormous 117 room estate. With the board of the company trying to wrestle control of the company away from her, they engage (at her choosing) psychologist Dr. Eric Price (Jason Clarke) to do an evaluation on Mrs. Winchester to see if she is mentally fit to remain in control. Upon visiting the house and meeting her niece Marion (Sarah Snook), and grand nephew Henry (Finn Scicluna-O’Prey), it’s not long before Price learns of a more supernatural purpose to the constant renovations of this wickedly opulent house.

When the motor of Winchester gets going in its 3rd act, it really gets going. Embracing its B-grade genre fare, Winchester shines when it starts slamming doors, smashing windows and shaking walls. So it comes as a great pity that it takes so long to get there, padding out the initial furnishings with such stilted dialogue and forced Christopher Nolan style spell-it-out-and-repeat-it-exposition. The use of a flashback sequence late in the piece is unnecessary, given we’d seen it not an hour prior, and threatens to derail the rather impressive finale (thankfully, it doesn’t but it simply has no need to be there).

From a production design point of view, Winchester is something of an achievement given the modest budget attached to the film. Shot entirely in Melbourne, hats off to all the local artists who had a hand in this as they’ve fashioned a foreboding and impressive character in that house.

This can also be said for the lack of reliance on digital visual effects to provide the thrills. Most of the effects work are physical and in camera (i.e. they actually did it) and it adds to the palpability of the experience.

Winchester may not be as scary as it proffers to be, but there is a lot to admire here with its only buckle being pacing. It’s worth the ride for the closing act where the film goes gung ho for genre thrills and nails it (pardon the pun) winningly.