If you’re wondering what it would be like to renovate a house with a ghost in it then you will probably like this.

  • Screenplay by Tom Vaughan (Playing House)
  • Directed by Michael and Peter Spierig (Jigsaw)
  • Starring Helen Mirren (The Queen, Trumbo), Sarah Snook (Steve Jobs), Jason Clarke (Everest, Mudbound)
  • Budget of $4m

Initial Thoughts

The first horror film review of the year for the Croydon Cinema Club (our guilty pleasure genre) definitely did disappoint. You will probably be more scared-ter-tained at your own home than at the Winchesters.

The ‘ccc’ review

Doctor Eric Price (Jason Clarke) is requested to the house to assess Sarah Winchester’s (Helen Mirren) mental health – a widowed firearms heiress is convinced that her family is cursed and she is haunted by the souls of people killed by the Winchester repeating rifle. To stop them she has designed and constructed a sprawling mansion to imprison the wandering souls. Is it in the mind or is it reality….

The Winchester house is an actual mansion in San Jose, California and is believed to be one the most haunted houses in America. The tales goes that the spirits were angry at being shot by a Winchester (who wouldn’t be). In other folklore, Sarah Winchester thought the spirits were angry with her because she was spending too much time decorating and working on the front rooms – like a supernatural grand designs.

The film does follow the horror story checklist:

  • Chiming of bells at midnight ✅
  • Rattling of doors ✅
  • Old creaky house ✅
  • Old lady who is thought to be crazy but isn’t ✅
  • Possessed child with demon voice to boot ✅
  • Rocking chair rocking unassisted (personal favorite) ✅
  • And of course very loosely inspired by true events ✅

Do all of these checks make for a great horror film… short no.

Obviously we are currently deep into Oscar season and it would be a bit harsh to compare them against current films. But even through the lens of what makes a good horror, this film still isn’t very good. After settling in after the initial few frights you yearn for a bit more depth and thought in the story.

Directed by twin brothers, Michael and Peter Spierig, the film has a feel of a period drama. It does it’s best to follow the well trodden path of a horror film and setting scares up for later in the film – but there is probably more tension at Downton Abbey than at the Winchester estate. It also seems that after securing the services of Helen Mirren, they didn’t leave much in the budget for makeup – I’ve seen scarier ghosts at Halloween.

Helen Mirren plays the role of cursed widow while Jason Clarke and Sarah Snook lead the supporting cast. Mirren does her best to lift the quality of the film but this is not what was needed – it needed scares! No one particularly dazzles, which fits with the overall feel of the film.

Final Thoughts

The scariest part of the cinema experience was probably the film trailers before of upcoming horrors, the (only) real life picture of Sarah Winchester and then the walk home….maybe we would have rather watched the ghostly grand designs option.

Recommend if you have ever seen or planning to go to the Winchester house in San Jose 😐👻

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