I just waded through Winchester on Netflix and … I am at a loss. At a loss to explain how so much money and talent could be wasted on such an utterly uninvolving, derivative, boring ‘haunted house’ movie.
This shambling, unfeeling, tedious thing has beautiful production design, a large budget, a whole host of solid actors in lead and supporting roles. It has Helen Mirren in it. Friggin’ Helen Mirren, doing a remarkably bad American accent. It has a remarkably good premise at the center of it: a haunted house story about one of the best-known, if not ‘real,’ haunted houses in modern America. And yet there is not a single legitimate scare, not even a good jump, in the whole damn thing. It’s literally hard to get through in a single sitting.
It shows, once again, how absolutely essential it is to tell a good story, especially in horror. Not tell about a story; not briefly telegraph the premise, then introduce a succession of vaguely weird images and “mysteries” you care nothing about, followed by a meaningless non-ending. It doesn’t matter. You just can’t care. Because there is no context, there is no human interaction. And showing us a bunch’a spooky shit followed by halting, breathless ‘explanations’ – not-scary scene interspersed with tedious exposition – is not an acceptable substitute.
Refreshing familiar tropes (a horribly overused word, used yet again here) is a commonplace in genre fiction, written and cinematic. After all, sometimes that’s all you want: nothing iconoclastic, innovative, ground-breaking; just a good, scary story, well-told, even if it is using nothing but elements you’ve seen a hundred times before. You can still make great sculptures out of the same old Lego blocks … if you’re clever enough. But here: there’s nothing good, scary, or well-told in Winchester.
There’s not even much of a story.