Directed by Michael Spierig and Peter Spierig (2018)
by Sandy DeVito
If you like: Helen Mirren in gorgeously detailed period mourning gowns and veils, old-fashioned ghost stories, Victorian aesthetic, meticulous production design, fantastic prop detail, general ooky-spooky vibes, long scenes where people talk about death and grief and languish in the drawn-out agonies of sordid pasts, old-timey drugs, women finding their strength, a general reliance on creepy mood pieces rather than gore, a decent amount of ghostly jump-scares, creepy household staff with secrets, death, crazy-ass giant haunted houses with a million rooms, paintings that drip blood, death, ghosts, spooks and general gothic stuff, this film is for you. If you're looking for a gore-fest or an existential nightmare, this is not the film for you. Winchester is in a very specific canon, one I love more than almost anything, but it's not for everyone. If you love James Wan's films, you probably won't like this (I don't like James Wan's films). There are different kinds of horror stories, and this is in the gothic Victorian sphere. Adjust your expectations accordingly.
The production design and attention to detail really thrilled me. I love embroidered gowns and silvery chandeliers and gold-embossed lamps and dark bouquets of flowers and chilly grand rooms and unnerving portraits and everything that comprises this genre and is displayed so wonderfully in this movie. I was already a fan of the Spierig brothers because of their vampire genre film Daybreakers, but this is refreshingly quite different from that film (though I'd argue Daybreakers has its moments of gothica as well). Winchester relies on the old adage "what you don't see is scarier" and I really prefer that style of storytelling when it comes to the gothic tradition in particular.
My major complaint is this: I can't figure out why they cast Jason Clarke as the male lead for a gothic ghost story. Gothic male figures need to be both achingly beautiful, and exhibit the general air of the corpse of a person that has died recently (see: Johnny Depp in Sleepy Hollow, Tom Hiddleston in Crimson Peak, et al). Jason Clarke is neither pretty enough or sickly enough or dashing enough or, well, anything really. He's a miscast. I found him tolerable but unaffecting. Helen, though. Helen Mirren as Sarah Winchester will likely be one of my favorite performances of the year.