Winchester Is a Showcase of Wasted Horror Movie Potential
You don't know this about me but I love horror movies. Well, I love horror movies in theory, because I barely watch any movies in general. Sigh.
So there's one thing that will send every horror movie fan into ecstasy at any given time:
Based on a true story
Because the only true horror that can be extracted from any tale is the one that you take with you when you walk into your bathroom in the middle of the night, or when you turn off the lights to go to bed; the ol' “it could happen to me” factor that you just can't shake off when you're alone in the dark, no matter how ridiculous it seems.
So with the Saw series, for example, the plot takes such a specific and outlandish path that, while you do spend a lot of time in your life contemplating what you would do if you were caught in one of John's traps (and for what sin), it’s not going to to breathe down your neck in the middle of the night daring you to turn around to make sure there’s nothing there. But “based on a true story”? That puts everything in the realm of possibility in your psyche. It’s one thing to try to come up with the scariest things to put on screen, which sometimes get ridiculous - think IT Episode 2 (1990), you know what I'm talking about - but to have the horror material ready to go? OP. Winchester already had a leg up.
Winchester is described as a thriller/fantasy (wut) and was directed by the Spierig brothers, who also wrote the screenplay alongside Tom Vaughan. The big marketing campaign that pushed Winchester forward highlighted the fact that this is Helen Mirren’s first-ever horror film. “FOR HELEN MIRREN TO FINALLY DECIDE TO BE A HORROR MOVIE LEAD?” She's pretty badass, so you know she's going to bring it.
Now, as with every horror movie, you go in with your face crunched in hopeful but nervous anticipation and your fingers crossed. The horror-genre is very difficult to nail, and every movie-goer walks into the theater hoping that it’s not a two-hour dependence on cheesy jump scares.
To recap, when it comes to Winchester, here are the elements that, if taken advantage of well, could make the movie a hit:
1. Based on a true story
2. Helen Mirren lead
3. Avoidance of horror movie tropes (jump scares et. al)
The movie doesn’t make it, guys. It floats with so much potential and a few interesting elements that surface. But these interesting elements are never explored and the entire movie drowns into the pile of failed horror films, guaranteed to be lost in the genre's history.
To be fair, I’m going to quickly identify some elements that I enjoyed before my eventual disappointment. First, there’s literally one jump scare that’s fantastic, I didn’t even know that was possible. I didn’t know it was possible to like a jump scare.
Then there’s the whole concept behind the movie: [SPOILER] a mansion that housed dozens if not HUNDREDS of unique ghosts, each with their own temperaments and stories, of which we literally meet one. DESPITE THE FACT THAT we were teased about the other ghosts throughout the entire film - like one scene literally said, "Hey guys, it's time to meet... the other ghosts." And then we don't. Everyone just moved on. [/SPOILER] What?
Finally, a storyline (or subplot) was introduced and then immediately thrown out: [SPOILER] Helen Mirren locking three characters in with an angry ghost! [/SPOILER] WHAT A MOVIE THAT COULD HAVE BEEN. But no. Like the rest of the movie, it was a tease-and-release.
Character strength in this movie was a mixed bag - the Winchester’s niece, Marion, was a strong character, and some of the staff members were particularly standout. The main character, Eric Prince, was half and half, and Sarah Winchester (Helen Mirren) was honestly just such a flop, I didn’t know a script can fail a fantastic actor so catastrophically. And yes it really does all come down to the writing, because the dialogue was unrealistic, mostly expositional and frequently inconsistent with the character - especially Helen Mirren’s. The movie’s climax was no such thing. You wouldn’t even realize you're at the peak of the plot. You had to tell yourself, “Oh, that was the climax by the way, so, keep that in mind. That was literally supposed to be the highest point in the movie.” It was, however, not.
You know, when I started typing this, I didn’t think I’d get so angry by the end of it, but here I am.
No no, I’m not angry. I’m just.
Because honestly. Truly. With all my heart. This movie really did showcase a lot of potential, and not just from the marketing campaign, but throughout the film itself. There was so much that they could have worked with, but they completely dropped every novel idea that they introduced in the movie to fall back on horror movie tropes that we’ve seen again and again and again.
If you can literally predict every jump scare, something’s wrong. Do the Hollywood moviemakers just pass around a horror movie template and fill in the blanks? LIKE HORROR MOVIE MAD LIBS?
Anyway. Maybe a few years down the line, the movie can get a remake that takes advantage of the story’s potential. Hell, maybe even a sequel could do that.
They did have one pretty good jump scare, and one nice gasp-worthy _tiny_ twist, so it wasn’t all bad, but it’s a 5/10 film at best.