Winchester (the film)

Saw the movie Winchester last night, for two reasons: 1) I have a yen to set either a story or a game in a structure like the Winchester Mystery House and 2) Helen Mirren.

Mind you, about three minutes into the movie I was asking my husband “why am I here, again?” Me, I’m not much of a horror movie person. I loathe the cheap “jump moment” approach to film-making, where you know something horrible is going to flash briefly into the frame, and I am beyond done with victimization as entertainment, especially female victimization. So every time we had a fleeting shot of some spectral monstrosity, I was both agitated and annoyed.

By the time the film was done, the agitation was gone, and the annoyance had morphed. Winchester has a pretty good story at the heart of it: Sarah Winchester’s conviction that she must build a house for the spirits of the people killed by her husband’s rifles, the company’s attempts to oust her by having her declared mentally unfit, the personal troubles of the doctor sent to assess her state of mind. The script does a nice job of weaving these things together in some interesting ways — and, I’ll note, it does so without ever making you watch the victimization of Sarah Winchester, her niece Mary, or Ruby, the doctor’s dead wife (whose story is sufficiently complex that I wouldn’t consider her fridged). They may be frightened, but you never have to see them weeping and bloody and begging for mercy. The least effective parts of the movie were the ones where the screenwriter and director seemed to feel compelled to follow the standard horror formula, making you sit there and wonder how much longer it will be before the person wandering around the creepy old house at night is made to shriek or fall down at the sight of a spectre. The most effective parts are the ones where the characters just talk to one another, unfolding their histories and personal demons, building suspense of a richer kind.

It makes me wish we could have had a film that was all that part, without the stupid jump moments.

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