Photo from Bustle.com
By Akanksha Kar
What does a typical horror movie really need? Some levitating objects, perhaps a kid being possessed, your classic skeptic, a hero (or in this case, a heroine) to save the day, a haunted house and so forth. “Winchester,” directed by the Spierig Brothers, has all of these features, with a slightly fancier flare.
The first flare you will notice is that it is indeed based on a true story. No kidding. Back in 1839, Sarah Pardee was born. But that is not important. What is important is that, in 1862, she got married to William Wirt Winchester and became Sarah Winchester.
In 1857, William Winchester had acquired the assets to a company which developed into the Winchester Repeating Arms Co. that invented the volcanic repeater rifle. Due to the outbreak of the civil war, the Winchester Repeating Arms Co. gained a lot of profit. In 1866, Sarah Winchester birthed her first and only child, but sadly she died as an infant only days after. This was the first pivotal point in making her life, and this movie.
After her child’s death, it was said that she became somewhat of a recluse and went a little mad. Shortly after, in 1881, William Winchester died of pulmonary tuberculosis, which made Sarah Winchester the rightful owner of the Winchester Repeating Arms Co., and she also inherited about $20 million dollars. Money obviously could not ease her grief, so soon after she decided to consult a medium, who tells her that there is a curse on her family, which is brought upon by the fallen men of the rifle’s doings and that is what precisely took her family away from her. She was also told to sell her property in New Haven and start a new life, so she moved to California and bought an 8 room house to begin with.
It did not stop there.
The medium also told her that she must keep building on that house, for the fallen spirits, or she would die. The movie of course, highlighted all of this quite well, demonstrating all the doors to nowhere, the strange staircases, dwarf sized gates and doors and her peculiar interest for the number 13. Some parts of the “true story” were definitely hyped, like how she used 13 nails to seal in bad spirits into a room. However, the Spierig brothers did stay true to majority of the real story. The movie captured details of the bells ringing at midnight, her nightly rituals of performing a seance in a specific room, her general characteristics, her mannerisms and finding the actress in Helen Mirren who is eerily identical to the real Sarah Winchester. Even the house almost being a perfect replica.
However, in no point in real life was there evidence that her nephew was possessed by a spirit and attacked Sarah Winchester. This was purely for entertainment. Then there was the skeptic– which every horror movie has– the one guy or girl who absolutely does not believe in spirits but then experiences it first hand, and then ends up fawning all over it. That role was fulfilled by Jason Clark, who played her personal psychiatrist or doctor to assess her mental health.
Truth be told, this was a little unnecessary. It felt more like a desperate attempt at making people believe that okay, she is not a mad woman who talks to ghosts and that there is a psychiatrist who also sees them (but refuses at first because he is in denial). Although Clark was one of the main cast members, his role seemed like an elongated extra.
Moving on to the jump scares. Along with the costume design and the simplistic soundtrack, the jump scares were actually good. Makeup artistry and CGI have come a long way and it certainly shows in this movie. Some of the jumps were only a mere “blink and you miss em’,” literally, but they were effective in making the audience question, “what did I just see?”, and in a good way.
The other good thing is, sometimes in typical horror movies, people almost know when to expect the so called jump scares. This one, you cannot always expect it. Majority of the movie runs on this. That is not a good thing. Real horror is that when you come out of the theatre questioning what just happened and realizing that it can actually happen in real life.
The other thing that makes the movie the movie, is that it is based on one of the most haunted stories and personas in Northern America. Naturally, everyone would be curious to see the tale.
All said and done, the movie is not as bad as “Paranormal Activity,” “The Babadook” or even “Annabelle.” However, after watching “The Conjuring,” and even “The Conjuring 2,” “Winchester” is a good enough horror movie after those hits, in a long while.