Courtesy of Lionsgate
If you were to look up "creepy old and iconic haunted houses" chances are, you'd find the Winchester mansion at the top of the list. In fact, most paranormal investigators sight it as the primo haunted attraction in the world. It's a never ending maze, and also the focal point and backdrop behind "Winchester: The House The Ghosts Built." It's a worn out, old fashion thriller that puts more time in the lame spooks than actually focusing on the house.
Thankfully, The Spierig Brothers duo (who helmed the mediocre "JIGSAW" back in October) somehow convinced Helen Mirren to sign on as leading lady, Sarah Winchester a widow whose shotgun dynasty is in question following spurts of rage proclaiming spirits walk around her house. That's where esteemed psychologist Eric Price (Jason Clarke) comes into the picture. To deem the sanity of Ms. Winchester and whether or not she stands fit to run a worldwide enterprise. This involves the drug addict Price to stay in close proximity of Ms. Winchester and sleep in close quarters inside the house. At first, he starts seeing everything you'd expect: creepy ghouls, headless children, and a child ready to commit suicide. He chops it up to his addiction and makes nothing of it.
Of course, as the film trots along (which, thankfully, only runs about 90 minutes) Price starts to get the feeling, that perhaps something odd is procuring. Not to mention Winchester herself has a construction crew working around the clock, adding more rooms than she knows what to do with, and Price has to ask the obvious question of why?
I will admit, they're some good jolts in "Winchester," a testament to the Spierig Brothers trying to maneuver their ploys and catching the audience off guard. But the biggest irony in all of this film, is that we never really explore the house. This mansion is supposed to be this HUGE labyrinth where you could get lost and never be found. What should've felt like something new and fresh, instead walks the line of a familiar haunted house flick. These teenagers old enough to purchase a ticket should also be grateful they get to see the masterful Mirren sell this thing like her life depended on it. She doesn't phone in her performance, even if everything she says sounds like a dramatic reading out of a fiction novel. Clake also works overtime to be the leading man we want, but he gets drowned in a devastating backstory that only exists when it's convenient for his character, and it doesn't help him grow or propel his arch forward.
The plotting is coherent enough that it abides by all the standard necessities of genre horror. But I’ve seen more investigation on an episode of "Ghost Hunters" than what The Spierig Brothers brought to the table. There's an atmospheric tension felt throughout the film in which these guys don't know how to handle. They were given the keys to the candy shop, and still couldn't cash in on the Hitchcockian vibe this movie presents. It's formulaic to boot, and "Winchester" can't do itself any favors and rise above the tier of worn out haunted troupes. Whichever way you shoot it, this film is a misfire. C