In retrospect, the brief spark of ingenuity that the Spierig Brothers exhibited in 2014’s lovably loopy Predestination probably had more to do with the conceptual ballsiness of Robert A. Heinlein’s source text than anything. With a recent lacklustre attempt at franchise revival in Jigsaw, and now this goofy ghost thriller, it’s become even clearer that they’re the undistinguished genre travellers that they’ve always been: clearly big, avid fans of sci-fi and horror, with little of consummate craft nor consistent vision of their heroes.
Winchester is based on a true story of such bizarre circumstance it’s hard not to be somewhat curious. An eccentric rifle heiress with a connection to the spirit world. A haunted, maze-like Victorian mansion she kept renovating and constructing for nearly four decades. The combination of architectural weirdness and a mystifying historical character, delivered in a hot-button firearms-themed narrative, should’ve made for a unique, even potent, supernatural period piece. But Winchester is largely pedestrian, a things-go-bump-fest that’s milder than a trip to Spookers.
Jason Clarke, more comfortable as burly, square-jawed, militaristic men, feels ill-suited to playing Sarah Winchester’s booze-breathed psychiatrist, who unfortunately gets a substantial, and awfully dull, share of the plot. Where she pops up, Helen Mirren lends an air of respectability and a welcome dose of camp to the warmed-over material. Sidelining her might not have been such an issue if the Spierigs had done justice to the film’s next best asset: the house itself. Budgetary constraints aside, the labyrinthine geography of the mansion is poorly communicated, sapping much allure from its bounty of potentially atmospheric spaces.
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