“Inspired by true events.”
What exactly do these words mean? In this case, the words indicated that there is a real house, in San Jose, California, like the one in the movie that Sarah Winchester was continuously adding on to during her life. It has a reputation of being haunted.
That would be it.
Not that there is anything wrong with taking that bit of true events and fictionalizing it into a horror movie. Heck, I would even go as far as to say that the concept itself is very solid. The Winchester mansion has all kinds of weird rooms, with stairs leading nowhere and creepy atmosphere. The lay out of the house indicates the possibility of the madness of the owner.
None of that is covered effectively. This house, which should have been the most important character in the movie, was really neglected for cheap jump scares and cliched horror movie tropes.
Dr. Eric Price (Jason Clarke), a drug-addicted yet famous psychologist, is hired by the Winchester company to travel to see Winchester heiress Sarah (Helen Mirren) and to perform a psychological test on her. Price has his own share of problems that he brings along with him to the haunted house. Immediately, there are things that he hears and sees that he has a difficult time coming to grips with. Meanwhile, obsessively controlling Sarah will only speak to him under certain specific circumstances.
Eventually, we discover that Sarah believes that the house is being haunted by the angry spirits of those victims of the Winchester gun, and she has been building this house to help contain or allow the ghosts to move on.
There could have been some real psychological horror here. They had set up this woman to be completely mad and behind much of her own pain, and they have some real potential in the character of Dr. price, whose own demons could be used in this situation. Neither of these are effectively used.
Both Helen Mirren and Jason Clarke are okay in these roles, but I really expected to see the acting elevate the material, especially int he case of the great Dame Mirren. That did not happen here. They were fine. That’s about it.
The story itself was non-existent more much of the film and it was downright boring for a good chunk of it. There are so any things that are tossed out there without any sufficient follow up that it felt like a patchwork of a story. And because of that, the film neglected the story that it should have focused on.
Worst part yet was the film was all jump scares. Honestly, jump scares are so easy and this film chose to use them instead of going into any expansive story elements. And these jump scares were so ridiculously obvious that they lost a lot of their effectiveness. There is one scene where Dr. Price is moving a little mirror back and forth and you knew something was going to show up and try to scare us. It moved a couple of times before finally settling on the “scary” creature that made Dr. Price jump. There were also the typical loud bursts of music meant to jolt the audience. I actually appreciated those jolts as they snapped me back awake a couple of times.
This movie took all of the fascinating parts that could have created a new and different horror movie, and tossed them away to have a simple and repetitive haunted house movie like all the others we have seen so many times before. And even worse, the film wasted a strong cast including an Academy Award winner in Helen Mirren.
I did not even go into the magic bullet of love.