Winchester movie review

For inSing

WINCHESTER

Directors: The Spierig Brothers
Cast : Helen Mirren, Jason Clarke, Sarah Snook, Finn Scicluna-O’Prey, Angus Sampson, Laura Brent
Genre : Horror
Run Time : 1h 40mins
Opens : 8 Feb 2018
Rating : PG13

In San Jose, California, stands the Winchester Mystery House, reputedly one of the most haunted residences in the United States. This is the story of that house, and the woman who built it.

It is 1906, and Dr. Eric Price (Jason Clarke) is summoned by the Winchester Repeating Arms Co.’s lawyers to conduct an evaluation of Sarah Winchester (Helen Mirren). Sarah, the widow of Winchester founder William, has sunk all the money left to her by her husband into the construction of a sprawling, labyrinth mansion. She intends to imprison the restless souls of those killed with Winchester rifles within the house’s walls.

Also living in the house are Sarah’s niece Marian Marriott (Sarah Snook) and Marian’s young son Henry (Finn Scicluna-O’Prey). Henry is prone to sleepwalking, but Sarah believes something more sinister might be at play. Eric writes off the spooky occurrences he witnesses as the result of withdrawal from the drugs he’s addicted to, but soon, the paranormal activity grows to intense to ignore. Sarah must find a way to grant the ghosts peace, or they will torment her and her family forever.

Oh, and JUMP SCARE!

The true story of Sarah Winchester and the Mystery House she constructed is fascinating and eerie, so it is a shame to see it reduced to a mostly dull, run of the mill horror movie. Every so often, there are glimmers of potential: production designer Matthew Putland has created a decent approximation of the house’s rooms, and all three principle actors are talented if under-utilised. Unfortunately, directors Peter and Michael Spierig are only content with scratching the surface, always going for the obvious and nothing more.

Winchester could’ve been a disturbing, compelling portrait of a women driven to the brink of insanity, wracked with guilt, and swallowed up by her demons. This has all the makings of a stylish Gothic horror film – imagine what a director like Guillermo del Toro could’ve done with this material. Alas, we merely get a succession of jump scares, and the mansion never becomes the central character we are promised it will be.

There’s also the opportunity to make a political statement, given the hot-button topic gun control always is in America. There are allusions to oppressed minorities, including African-American slaves and Native Americans, but Winchester never goes anywhere interesting with this. The central ghost winds up being rather boring, given that there are supposedly hundreds of other ghosts who lurk around the manor’s halls.

There’s a degree of novelty in the fact that a respected Oscar-winning actress like Helen Mirren deigned to star in a generic horror movie. Alas, that novelty fades fast. Mirren is good but unremarkable – this can mostly be chalked up to how the script refuses to give any real depth to Sarah’s personal turmoil, and how keen the movie is to explain things the audience should have already deduced. Mirren doesn’t fling herself off the deep end, never surrendering to the madness in a way that could be considered entertaining. At the same time, the movie does want to be sufficiently respectful of Sarah Winchester, by refraining from painting her as crazy. We can only imagine the meal Mirren would’ve made of this character, were she better written.

Clarke’s Eric is the standard sceptical man of science, who refuses to believe that supernatural forces are at work. Naturally, there’s a tragic back-story he must come to terms with. Clarke’s trying, but there’s not much to work with. Same goes for Snook, who starred in the Spierig Brothers’ far superior film Predestination. She spends most of the movie looking scared.

Winchester could’ve gone in two directions: a genuinely creepy psychological thriller that delves into the mind of a truly disturbed, complex woman; or an over-the-top Hammer Horror-style haunted house movie that’s campy, arch and blood-soaked. This film is neither and is instead middle-of-the-road and disappointingly bland. Even Mirren’s presence can’t elevate Winchester, which should have plenty to say about the effect of gun violence on those who are left behind to pick up the pieces but says almost nothing.

RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

The Dressmaker

For F*** Magazine

THE DRESSMAKER

Director : Jocelyn Moorhouse
Cast : Kate Winslet, Judy Davis, Liam Hemsworth, Hugo Weaving, Sarah Snook, Caroline Goodall, Kerry Fox, Sacha Horler
Genre : Drama
Run Time : 119 mins
Opens : 28 January 2016
Rating : PG13 (Some Coarse Language and Some Sexual References)
Revenge never goes out style in this dark comedy-drama. It is 1951 and after a long absence, Mrytle “Tilly” Dunnage returns to her hometown of Dungatar in the Australian outback to care for her ailing mother Molly (Davis). Tilly was accused of murder at the age of 10 and was exiled from the town. In the intervening years, she has become an expert designer and seamstress, having worked in Europe for high fashion houses such as Balenciaga. Teddy McSwiney (Hemsworth), a childhood friend, goes about romancing Tilly, though all the other residents of Dungatar regard her with suspicion. After Tilly helps general store clerk Gertrude Pratt (Snook) undergo a dramatic makeover, the women of the town become infatuated with Tilly’s couture creations. With the help of flamboyant police Sergeant Horatio Farrat (Weaving), Tilly uncovers the truth behind what happened all those years ago and enacts her vengeance on the townsfolk.

            The Dressmaker is adapted from Rosalie Ham’s 2000 novel of the same name. Director Jocelyn Moorhouse co-wrote the script with her husband P.J. Hogan; a film version seeing the light of day after an earlier attempt in the mid-2000s fell through. A cursory glance at the title or poster might mislead one to believe that this is a run of the mill chick flick. For better or worse (mostly worse), The Dressmaker isn’t. Beneath the surface of immaculately-tailored dresses, an unsettling nastiness is bubbling over and The Dressmaker has quite the caustic edge. It’s a twisted tale of small town revenge that feels more like an askew Western than it does a period countryside romance. Moorhouse herself describes it as “Unforgiven with a sewing machine”.

            The Dressmaker is refreshing in how different it is, but it is also vexingly difficult to place. There are wild tonal inconsistencies: this is a film where a woman trips over a poofy skirt as she tries to keep her fiancé from seeing her in an embarrassing get-up, a policeman drapes himself in pink fabric and traipses about to the Flower Duet from Lakmé and someone’s anterior tibial artery gets severed. Moorhouse’s fearlessness in going full-tilt weird is alternately novel and off-putting. The odd combination of broad slapstick and some shockingly dark moments makes it difficult to get involved in the story, the overall effect vaguely alienating.

            Winslet as Tilly is inspired casting and her performance anchors the sometimes-shaky film that surrounds her. Her turn as an old-school femme fatale with revenge on the brain is pitch-perfect and she has poise to spare as she struts about in an array of striking ensembles created by costume designer Margot Wilson. It is heightened and exaggerated, as the rest of the movie is, but Winslet manages to find some nuance here. Davis is captivating as Tilly’s dementia-addled mother, who seems at first to be little more than a crotchety old lady who’s not altogether there, but eventually emerges as a complex, sympathetic figure. Davis imbues the movie with genuine pathos – there are raw emotional moments which feel out of place given the absurdity of it all, but Davis makes them work.

            Hemsworth fares considerably worse as Teddy, the rugged, dashing farmboy. While he does provide a good amount of eye candy, he’s completely mismatched with Winslet, the burgeoning relationship unconvincing as a result. Teddy is also supposed to be around the same age as Tilly. Hemsworth is 25 and Winslet is 40; it just doesn’t work onscreen. Weaving is quite delightful in a colourful supporting role, his cross-dressing Sergeant Farrat possibly having an even greater penchant for quality women’s wear than Anthony “Tick” Belrose did in Priscilla: Queen of the Desert. A number of Australian actresses including Sarah Snook, Sacha Horler, Alison Whyte and Julia Blake help populate Dungatar with the peculiar people who call the town home.



            The Dressmaker is an odd bird, a costume comedy-drama dipped in acid. Its third act is especially bleak, and that’s when everything comes unstitched. Director Moorhouse brings a great deal of style to the proceedings and this is a distinct approach to the source material, but The Dressmaker is too inconsistent and tonally confused to work.

Summary: While Kate Winslet shines in the title role, The Dressmaker’s peculiar, unpalatable sensibilities make it a poor fit.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong