Taking place in 1906, a psychiatrist from San Francisco named Eric Price (Jason Clarke) is called in about an elder named Sarah Winchester (Mirren) who believes that she's speaking to spirits and is witness to countless hallucinations. Why? Well, she's the widow of William Winchester, who created a firearms company. When he suddenly died, she inherited over $20 million, which, back then, would equal over $500 million, and she uses that money to continuously construct her mansion. Why? Well, she feels guilty about all those who perished due to the weapons the company in her name manufactured, and she believes their spirits are out and restless and in pain, so she reconstructs rooms to be the exact same in replica form as the room they died in. For the spirits that don't end up working out, she claims to put them in these special rooms, and board them up. With 13 nails per. But there's a loophole about all this. Sarah is grieving about the sudden loss of her husband and child. I'd be in quite a wreck if I were her. So would you. Eric has also lost someone dear to him recently. So Eric's out to find the best way to cure her assumptions at the request of her young relative Annie (Sarah Snook of The Glass Castle) and her son Henry. But it seems there's something darker than usual at stake in the household. Something gravely sinister. A story about the most haunted house in history.
A horror movie about the most haunted house in the world could either be silly or the best idea ever. The Annabelle movies incorporate a real life doll, the Ouija movies incorporate a real life game board that has myths of witchcraft, and yet there are loads of horror movies that aren't about one popular thing in particular. I feel what makes a good horror movie is characters you don't want to die, characters that don't have to be rocket scientists but smart enough to not follow the trail, actors whose performances seem realistic enough for them to be on their way to the shit sculpting, and scares that manage to put a chill through your clothes like a cold flame. Winchester sort of has all of the above, just at a B level.
But one thing that is certainly not a B level is the house. Apparently this movie was filmed right at the actual San Jose house so I guess I shouldn't really give praise for a setting if the filmmakers didn't craft it in the first place. But they redesigned a few things such as the costumes, polished some of the house up and put up construction towers; made it habitable again. And an excuse I can give for still praising the setting is by saying I now have a desire to visit San Jose and hope I can visit the museum without a million others getting the same idea.
This is also a horror movie that does not put our protagonists through as much pain and torture and body dismemberment as most horror movies, and a few years ago I'd say that was a good thing but now often times tragedies are what make horror movies memorable and emotion tearing. But it's entertaining and intriguingly spiritual movie, and as a result the jump scares came when I was at my full attention and some long cut-out sequences made it so I couldn't help but anticipate. I'd say it's more of a thriller than horror though, but considering I was expecting the film to be boring that's quite good enough.
A special guessing game in the climax comes up about a ghost, and we have enough time to brainstorm, and the reveal is, in my opinion, genius. It's hard to determine what's "enough" in this day and age of filmmaking: A film could star all the old actors from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest in 1976 and sometimes that just isn't enough. And sometimes it actually could be. In this case, this movie offers nice jump scares, a small enough running time, terrific sets and fine performances. Even if I don't see it ever becoming a classic, Winchester does not bore its audience, and that's in this case good enough for me.