Ever since I first heard about the Winchester Mystery House I have been fascinated by it so on hearing about The Spierig Brothers Winchester, a horror film based on not only the ghost inhabited mansion but also the woman who built it, I was extremely excited.
For those unaware of America’s most haunted abode the Winchester Mystery House was constructed in 1884 after Sarah Winchester inherited a huge sum of money and nearly fifty percent ownership of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company when her husband died of tuberculosis.
With her infant daughter dying around the same time a distraught Sarah moved to San Jose, California on the advice of a medium and purchased a farmhouse which she immediately set about converting. Convinced the ghosts of everyone ever killed by a rife made by her company were drawn to her and the house, she employed carpenters day and night up until her death in 1922 to build them a home and appease the restless souls.
The building grew into seven story mansion with roughly 161 rooms, including 40 bedrooms, 2 ballrooms as well as 47 fireplaces, over 10,000 panes of glass, 17 chimneys, two basements and three elevators. Full of strange rooms, confusing corridors and doors and stairs that go nowhere the Winchester Mystery House is open for tours to anyone who dares set foot in it but for those that won’t we now have Winchester to watch instead.
Inspired by the unusual life of Sarah Winchester and her strange and spirt infested home the movie opens in 1906 where drug addicted and disillusioned Dr. Eric Price (Zero Dark Thirty’s Jason Clarke) is contacted by the Winchester Company to perform an assessment of Sarah’s mental health and her ability to serve on their board.
Confused why the widow had requested him personally he takes the job due to its large payout and heads for her home shocked when he arrives at the size of the building and the constant construction work going on. Although a disbeliever at first after a few freaky experiences Dr Price finally meets the mysterious matriarch (played with aplomb by Helen Mirren) and she explains her arcane architectural achievement to him.
Late at night the phantoms who were slain by her company’s guns visit Sarah compelling her to create designs and plans for new rooms which must instantly be constructed. Once made these spaces, which are in fact the last place the victims were alive, become gateways for the ghosts to commune with her allowing the guilt ridden woman to atone for the crimes she feels she has committed against the innocent dead.
Realising that the hauntings are very real Dr Price must face not only the many ghosts that built the Winchester mansion but something more personal and powerful that threatens not only his life but that of Sarah’s niece (Sarah Snook from Black Mirror) and her young son.
Starting out with a sensational premise and a perfect location The Spierig Brothers do a great job introducing the uninitiated audience into the world of Winchester Mystery House. The possibilities seem endless with the house making a maze like prison for the living and dead trapped in its walls. The anti-gun message promoted by Sarah is also interesting and extremely pertinent and all this is hung on the gothic grandeur and peril of the period.
The concept of a possessed Sarah creating rooms and then communing with the manifestations of those murdered is a brilliant one and my hope was this would form the main thrust of the movie perhaps taking us through several different visitations all resulting in chilling consequences.
Sadly this is not the case and the film settles into a simplistic structure many horror lovers will have seen before with a battle for the boy pitting Price and Sarah against a vengeful spirit with a giant sized grudge all of which is acted and realized well but fails to ignite any real excitement or full on fear.
Entertaining and spooky enough plus packing in plenty on jump scares many of which are very effective it’s a shame more wasn’t made of the very original idea and actual factual location. The hope is anyone watching will be inspired to learn more about the Winchester Mystery House so perhaps they can witness what Sarah Winchester saw first-hand one day.