Helen Mirren fails to save this underwhelming ghost story from despairLIONSGATE

My word, this film is tedious. Perhaps the best that could be said for it is that it lulled one into a stupor rather than fostering any serious thoughts of heading for the exit, although it sometimes came close. 

The film is for starters flabbergastingly indulgent of twaddle. Seemingly an advert for the Winchester Mystery House at which the film takes place, it is intent on treating its premise of ghosts’ unfinished business with the utmost sincerity, resulting in the reverent, and mirthless, presentation of rifle magnate widow Sarah Winchester’s delusions about the supernatural. The explanation of her insistence on rooms being sealed shut with thirteen nails prompted a despairing internal cry of “good grief!” Yet the film allowed her to drone on and on as precious minutes were lost from our lives.

"There are likely five year-olds who could have done a better job using only a toy glockenspiel"

The dialogue was perhaps most at fault for the film’s soporific qualities. Winchester begins with a character who serves no purpose other than to explain the film’s premise to Jason Clarke’s character in a dull, methodical, and wholly unnaturalistic manner. Thereafter, the other characters proceed to talk to one another in wordy statements of the obvious which seem to emanate from the speakers from a dull thud.

Topics of conversation are limited to the house, death and ghosts. Funnily enough, this makes for an exasperatingly repetitive script which fails in an astonishingly comprehensive manner to inspire sympathy for any of the characters. This is a critical flaw for a film which attempts to engage the viewer by placing those characters in peril. At one point, Jason Clarke stalks the house carrying a hammer. We will for that hammer to be swung into someone’s, anyone’s, skull, simply for the base thrill. No such luck, alas.

Trailer for WinchesterYOUTUBE

The film, quite justifiably, has no confidence in its jump scares, so accompanies them with offensively unsubtle fortissimo swells. The otherwise noxiously bland score was composed by one of the film’s directors, and one rather suspects that he did not win that gig by being selected over other candidates. Indeed, there are likely five year-olds who could have done a better job using only a toy glockenspiel.


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Once the mind-numbingly boring conversations set in, however, one finds oneself pining for the rubbish jump scares, as at least they just about prevented one’s head from drooping. The blast of a shotgun woke us up a very long hour or so into proceedings, only for us to be treated to an earthquake sequence which somehow failed to hold the attention despite the allure of falling masonry. The closing scenes have plenty of crashing and smashing, but also plenty of portentous drivel, and thus fail to check a second decline into drowsiness.

There are advantages to making a film set in California in Australia (tax rebates), but there are also disadvantages. The American accents adopted by the Australian cast range from the ridiculous to the ridiculous, and occasionally an Antipodean upward inflection escapes from its decidedly silly cage. This was a film badly in need of a saviour. There was the merest hint of playfulness when a finger emerged from a speaking tube, but this was snuffed out more or less immediately. The only possible saviour was thus Helen Mirren. When she first appeared, her make-up was quite striking. After that, however, the only striking thing about her was how she was not to any extent managing to enliven the sludge which constituted the film’s script. Goodness me, how ghastly Winchester is 

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