The supernatural horror genre, in fact perhaps even the horror genre as a whole, is an ideal one for low budget flicks. Budget doesn't always equal success, as many classics have made clear, but of course such classics didn't reach their acclaim just because of low budgets. Winchester is another awkward example of this, and one that also utilizes one of the biggest marketing tools for a horror project: based on true events...
Okay, well yes, it is to an extent based on a true story - that of the renowned Winchester Mystery House, residence of firearm magnate William Winchester and his widow Sarah Winchester (Helen Mirren). This bizarre landmark holds various backstories as a cursed one for ghosts of Winchester gun victims to chill, a story Winchester uses as we bring mental health doctor Eric Prince (Jason Clarke) into the mix. With Sarah deemed mentally unsound to helm the company in her grieving state, Prince is hired to make a diagnosis for himself that will support or debunk such claims of Sarah being cursed...let's face it, being a supernatural horror film, what route do you think we'll be going down?
The more I left the gap between seeing the film and writing this review, the more difficult the latter became. Winchester I never recall being a painfully awful horror flick, but without a doubt a boring and forgettable one. What's most apparent upon watching is how reliant the film is on cheap and eventually irritating jump scares; the human body's natural flinching response to such sudden loudness is passed off as genuine fear once again, and I'm sure I'm not the only person who finds such a strategy tiresome and irritating. To be fair, sometimes the content making you jump can be quite threatening and induce mild scares, but this seldom occurs and for the most part you're putting up with a string of thunderous sound effects and occasional generic screams.
Whether a horror film sucks in the scare department or not, it still has to be held together with a half decent story, and Winchester doesn't offer much here either - simple parts of the narrative are frequently dragged out to desperately piece together a feature length tale from fairly mediocre source material, and a our newcomer fictitious characters including lead Eric Prince don't offer much to keep us compelled. Whilst Jason Clarke gives a decent performance, once again considering mediocre source material, it doesn't truly save the character from being bland and largely uninteresting. Same can be said for Helen Mirren who, fantastic an actress as she always will be, fails to be more than a pale lady walking around adopting a moody expression, perhaps opening up a bit more as the film nears its climax but not so much to keep her consistently interesting. It's this mixture of weak scares and boring characters that makes Winchester a dull horror effort through and through, with praise only really viable for its decent production design and little more.