This is Winchester with a silent h. For the plot is as creaky as the floorboards. The set and cinematography have the feel of a movie studio about them. And the frights, when they come, are tame, fleeting and far from memorable. Not even Dame Helen Mirren’s often veiled appearance as the spooked heiress Sarah Winchester can save the day for directors The Spierig Brothers and their co-writer Tom Vaughan whose tagline “Terror Is Building” should continue “A Favourable Review From Something So Dull”.
Based on actual events ‒ namely a chaotic mansion in San Jose dubbed “the house that spirits built” on account of the fact it is said to be haunted by those who were killed by guns bought from the Winchester family’s repeating firearms business ‒ what little plot there is hinges on a doctor (Jason Clarke as Eric Price) being asked by the Winchester company to assess whether Sarah is fit to retain her 50% stake in the company. And by fit, they mean mentally, not physically. For she believes her family like the house is cursed; and that the only way to lift it is to build more rooms to accommodate the souls caught in limbo. One of whom turns out to be a mortal threat to both patient and doctor.
Much of the action takes place in long, narrow and dark corridors. The effect, however, is not one of claustrophobia or eeriness; but tedium and déjà vu in that we’ve seen it a hundred times before and, quite frankly, executed a hundred times better. The pace like the ante creeps up rather than jolts. The performances feel somewhat stilted. And the ending lacks scale and spectacle. Like one observer’s description of the mansion, the film has “no apparent rhyme or reason”.