Have you ever had a bad taste in your mouth? A feeling that lingers and clings on to the tip of your tongue to the point where just when you think it wasn’t that bad it gets worse? Not to be too meta, but I think you know where I am going with this because the Spierig brothers’ “Winchester” did precisely that for me. Walking out of the dimly lit theatre I felt that it was below par, but something worth a thirteen dollar ticket. Then the longer that taste remained in my mouth, the more and more I began to realize the sheer magnitude of its lack of positive memorability. The Spierig Brothers used to be a hopeful duo of filmmakers, what happened?
Providing a storyline that acts like a firework show in reverse in which the beginning is the best part, and the ending is the worst, the Spierig brothers have embellished a “based on actual events” story that focuses on that of a doctor being forced to overcome his lack of belief in the supernatural in a house that seems to be a neverending showcase of surprises. The surprise force the doctor to believe in something that cannot be studied or seen, but the Spierig brothers attempt to tie it all back to something that only the greatest of horror filmmakers have achieved. Maybe we shouldn’t give up on this filmmaking duo just yet.
The Spierig brothers come from cult fame in a lot of ways, from the growing popularity of “Predestination” (an underrated gem) from home media viewings to the mediocre enjoyment of “Daybreakers.” With their recent avenues becoming more focused on making a quick buck, it seems that the Spierig brothers have delved themselves away from that cult status. But there is still seeds of hope to be found in their filmmaking capabilities, from the sheer magnitude of their production design which is admittedly astonishing to the use of the camera to provide some immaculate frames in moments of visual exploration. The Spierig brothers do all of this and attempt to give a core essence to their story by focusing it upon the devastations of grief. Each character suffers from it, and each is unable to conquer it until the end, and the plot follows similarly with that of the evil spirits being imprisoned by thirteen nails whose grief has become the source of their wickedness.
From the grounded, and at times rudimentary, first act it seemed that we would receive a film that was above average but nothing exceptional or extraordinary. After the buzz of excitement was warded off from my fifth or sixth predictable jump scare, I began to seep into my chair, and the overwhelment of disappointment became my blanket of comfort. Yes, there is a lot to find in this film that is far more intriguing than most horror films of today, but that's not saying much when you look at the desolate field of failure that is modern day horror movies and “Winchester” can be added to that compiling list of failures. Once the first act reaches its final breath and the second act picks up the proverbial baton to carry on, “Winchester” becomes a skeleton of its intriguing inception and a delves into a barrage of predictability.
Jump scares are no longer popular with most audiences, we can see them coming a mile away, and they never provide the same level of fear as they used to. But the Spierig brothers must think it's 1982, and that jump scares are still beloved by most audiences because there are so many pointless moments of sharp piercing noises and so-called creepy imagery to be found in this hallowed excuse of a horror film. The plotline even becomes predictable as the emotional focus of our protagonist goes from being complicated and tormenting to simplistic and amusing. He’s a battered doctor, a drug user, and an alcoholic abuser, but his grief seems to be the cause of his pain. That story could be taken to some points of enthrallment, but the story beats across the screen at a predictable pace, and the surprises wear thin.
The lack of depth to be found continues across the board as the characters seem to lack value to one another and to the screenplay itself. A mother and son subplot is given attention in order to provide more resonation for the protagonist, but a trained eye can spot the setup. Though Mrs. Winchester (Helen Mirren) is given far more screen time, her character becomes a wallowing screech of nonsense by repeating herself to the audience as if we didn’t hear her the first time. The performances attempt to makes these characters seem more well-rounded than they are and an A+ for effort should be rewarded, but that effort is outweighed by the sheer magnitude of boredom to be found in a movie that feels far too long despite it containing a sub-two-hour runtime.
I could continue to bash on this movie because it continues to build within me like a virus of some sorts. The bad taste has evolved into a sickness that won’t leave and refuses to stop spreading. There are some qualitative aspects to be found, but they are just not enough to make this movie worth anyone's time and especially their hard earned dollar. It's a movie that continues to irk me because of its preconceived and viewable potential. Watching that first act was like falling into the grasps of a great con man. I can’t deny it, I bought the bait and was left high and dry by what seemed to be a film delivering on its promises. The great conman of Hollywood continues to deceive me, and like that of the ghosts of the Winchester house the thirteen nails, or in this case the thirteen dollars, aren’t enough to hold them back.