The great thing about three-day weekends is that there’s plenty of opportunities for catching a few flicks. So far I’ve watched Black Panther (really good, 4.2 out of 5), Halloween III: Season of the Witch (surprisingly decent, 3.5 out of 5), and this morning I caught the ninth entry in my Rewatch Review series, Mama. I honestly thought this film would be painful to watch, but…you know what, let’s get into the review.

WHAT’S IT ABOUT: Mama is about Victoria and Lilly, two young sisters who disappear after their father goes on a murder spree after the 2008 market crash. They show up several years later after living in the woods all this time and are sent to live with their uncle Lucas and his girlfriend Annabel. Pretty soon they start experiencing weird things and find out that the girls weren’t exactly alone in those woods. Someone, or something, was there with them. And it’s come back to civilization too.

WHY I DIDN’T LIKE IT: You know, I honestly don’t remember. I just remember not liking it when I saw it back in college.

WHY I REWATCHED IT: The director, Andy Muschietti, produced 2017’s It, and that rocked. What the hell did I miss in Mama that made studio heads select him to be the director after Cary Fukunaga signed off?

THOUGHTS: Apparently I missed quite a bit. Mama‘s a great horror film.

For one thing, the actors put their all into their characters, and it works. You really see the arc of Annabel, played by Jessica Chastain, going from a carefree rocker girl who doesn’t want to be a mom at all bonding with the girls and growing into the role of a mother. And watching the girls adjust to civilization is fascinating for each one. And seeing these three very different and clashing people come together as a family is heartwarming, but in a way that doesn’t take away from the horror of the film (*cough* unlike Before I Wake *cough*).

Not only that, but the film does know how to set up a creepy atmosphere while also using jumpscares. I found myself hopping in my seat more than a few times. And as the film goes on, it manages to up the creepiness without showing too much of the titular Mama, who for a horror movie villain is actually kind of sympathetic once you get her backstory. It was genuinely scary.

Of course, the film isn’t without its problems. At times, while Mama’s design is creepy*, the CGI used to make her can be a bit distracting at times. And the music in the final scene kind of makes this really heartbreaking scene kind of melodramatic and sappy. I’m sure the idea was to heighten the sad emotions, but it backfires for me.

And hoo boy, that movie was loud. I turned down the volume and I was sure my neighbors would knock on my door and ask me to turn it down!

JUDGMENT: I honestly don’t know why I disliked the film anymore, and I can see why Muschietti was tapped to direct It.

Mama is a terrifying but heartwarming horror movie with a great premise and wonderful characters played by accomplished actors. On a scale of 1 to 5, I give this film a 4.5 out of 5. I’m so glad my opinion changed on this one.

 

Well, that’s nine films rewatched. My last one might take some time to find, as it’s not usually available in the States. Still, I’m looking forward to it, and I hope you are too. Until next time, pleasant nightmares, my Followers of Fear.

*And is probably the inspiration of the look for the abstract painting woman from It. Not kidding, look at those two side by side. They’re basically the same character with a different style…so there’s a King/Muschietti shared cinematic universe now? It’d make sense, this movie does feel like it would fit as a Stephen King adaptation.

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I’ve mentioned plenty of times before on this blog how much I love manga and anime. I’ve even written before how writers should check it out for a boost to their creativity. Well today, I’d like to talk about my favorite manga series, Red River by Chie Shinohara, which ran in Japan from 1995 to 2002. I absolutely love this series, and have since I discovered it prior to entering college seven years ago (and for numerous reasons, it took me nearly that long to get each volume and read it). I’m actually rereading it now, and I’m still in love with the story.

With the awesomeness of this series, it’s one I actually don’t see a lot of people talking about, so I thought I’d do a review to spread the word a bit. I don’t know if this post will get a lot of reads, or if the review will get a lot of people interested in reading the manga, but you never know. So without further ado, let me tell you about Red River:

The manga follows Yuri Suzuki, a Japanese teenager who finds herself pulled through time and space to the Hittite Empire in ancient Anatolia (modern-day Turkey). She’s been brought there because Nakia, the current queen and the emperor’s third wife, needs to make sure her son, who’s rather low in the succession order, attains the throne and a special sacrifice is needed. Yuri is meant to be that sacrifice, and narrowly avoids being killed thanks to the intervention of Prince Kail, the third Hittite empire. Together, they try to find a way to get Yuri home, while also circumnavigating not only Nakia’s schemes for power, but the schemes of others who would do them and the Hittite Empire harm, and at the same time finding something in each other they couldn’t find in anyone else.

This is a story of the same stripe as Game of Thrones: struggles for power in a grand empire, magic, history, battles with swords and chariots, romance, an exotic setting and a rich culture, and some great characters whom you grow to love and root for (and somehow remember a lot more easily despite the Mesopotamian/Biblical names).  And the characters are the best part:

First off, there’s Yuri, our heroine. I love this sort of character. While she starts off as a damsel-in-distress, she grows throughout the story, showing strong nerve, cleverness, and a desire to do what’s right, which allows her to save herself from difficult situations and gain several followers along the way. Prince Kail, based on the historical Mursili II, initially comes off as a playboy prince, but over time reveals a young man with the weight of the empire on his shoulders. He’s a brilliant politician and tactician, occasionally rash and impulsive, but above all loyal to those he loves and will go out of their way to help them if he can. And Queen Nakia is the villain Cersei Lannister aspires to be: while she’s beautiful, she doesn’t rely on her looks. Instead she uses a combination of magic, political power, brains, and manipulation to accomplish her goals. She doesn’t necessarily even need Yuri’s death to accomplish those goals, it’s just Plan A. And believe me, if she sees an opportunity, she’ll develop a Plan B, C and D.

A full-color shot from Red River.

The storytelling is also phenomenal, taking actual historic events and people and weaving them seamlessly into a story that also manages to balance intrigue and romance very well. In addition to Nakia, there are other enemies, usually enemy states and their leaders, who attempt to conquer the Hittite Empire or just to the characters themselves. Throughout the series, suspense is kept high with a variety of plots against the characters, as well as numerous twists that keep readers on their toes. And the romance is never too sappy or idealistic, but often shows how the leads have to struggle not only to make their relationship work, but also to make it legal in the eyes of the Hittite Empire (politics, am I right?).

And finally, there’s the art style. It’s meant to be quite appealing to readers, with characters having proportions similar to what they might have in the real world. There’s also plenty of attention to detail when it comes to locations and attire, which one would expect for a series like this. It all comes together in a visually pleasing package, which is what manga artists go for, so good on that.

Sadly, Red River never had an anime produced, but the manga is available in the United States and Canada (I think, anyway). If you want a story that encompasses ancient Middle Eastern history while filled with intrigue, magic, and romance, this may be the story for you. Check it out, and dive into what could definitely be called a whole new world.

Well, I got another story done this evening. And I honestly didn’t think I’d get it done that quickly tonight. I thought it’d take an hour and forty-five minutes to finish off this story. Somehow I got it done in half an hour. But who cares about that? I got a short story done!

Yeah, I use Bitmoji on occasion. In case you forgot.

Anyway, if you skipped the title the story is called “Do-Over,” and is about the lengths one girl goes to fix her life after she sends out a tweet she doesn’t realize is really offensive, ruining her life. Yeah, pretty relevant, isn’t it? In fact, this story was partially inspired by the story of Justine Sacco, the woman who sent a tweet making a joke how she hoped she wouldn’t get AIDS in South Africa, then saying it wouldn’t happen because she was white. When she finally landed in Cape Town, she was a trending subject on Twitter, had received a lot of hate over the Internet, and had even lost her job! However, I decided to make my protagonist a teenager rather than a thirty-year-old woman, because teenagers are still learning what is considered appropriate and what isn’t (actually, a lot of adults are still learning that, but let’s ignore that for a moment, shall we?), and I felt that would make her more relatable.

At least, it did to me. One thing I’m afraid of is that something I’ve said or done will come back to haunt me, especially if it’s on the Internet where nothing dies. I’ve even had friends and family members look over blog posts and stories just to make sure that nothing offensive was said when I wrote about a sensitive topic (my Aokigahara post is a prime example of that). Tapping into that fear and what it might be like to face that sort of hatred and rejection for making what you thought was just a stupid joke online really allowed me to tap into the character and relay things from her point of view.

And speaking of inappropriate tweets, coming up with what my protagonist tweeted was really the hardest part of writing the story. It actually held me up for about three days while I tried to figure out what my character would tweet. Obviously, coming up with offensive garbage is pretty easy. You only need to look at what makes the headlines to realize that. But coming up with something that a teenager would think is a joke was actually pretty difficult. Eventually I took the suggestion of someone in one of my online writer’s groups to do something close to me and, as I’m bisexual, came up with something that would upset me and my fellow LGBT individuals. After that, the story was fairly easy to write.

This also happens to be the shortest story I’ve written in years, a mere thirty-six hundred words. I can’t remember the last time I wrote a short story that short! And honestly, I wasn’t trying to truncate it that much. I knew it would be short, and I just wrote it. It just became short on its own, I guess.

Still, I know it’s far from perfect, and there may be issues I don’t see at this moment. I’ll probably get it beta read before I submit it anywhere.

Even so, I’m happy with the story I wrote and I’m glad I got it done this evening. Next time I sit down to write, I’m getting back to a certain story that I left unfinished and tackles themes of prejudice. Surprisingly, it’s not the last Reborn City book.

Goodnight, Followers of Fear! Pleasant nightmares!

Last year, I saw my first ballet, Romeo & Juliet, performed live on stage here in Columbus. Since then, I’ve gone to see a production of Swan Lake, watched a video online of Fall River Legend, based on the Lizzie Borden case (no need to guess why I looked up that one), and last night I went with my mother to see Giselle live on stage. And I have to say, after a year of watching/attending performances, I’m pretty much a committed ballet fan.

So if you’re keeping count at home, I’m a Jewish horror writer who’s openly bisexual, who enjoys nerdy things like superhero movies and anime/manga, reads plenty of scary stories, collects dolls and figurines, enjoys Buckeye football, has attended heavy metal concerts and listens to a lot of 80’s music, is on the autism spectrum and advocates for disabilities, knows how to cook and bake and enjoys it, and also enjoys going to the ballet. If there’s a stereotype I fit neatly into, I don’t know what it is!

But back to ballet. How did I get into it? Well besides possibly having a thing for tutus (but come on, who doesn’t?), I’m not sure when my interest in the medium first arose. I think it might’ve been from an episode of Sailor Moon I saw when I was a kid back where the episode revolved around a ballet teacher (Sailor Moon, how many ways do you continue to influence me?). Before that, I’d dismissed ballet as for girls, but after that episode, I started to wonder if there was something to like.

And then of course, the desire to check it out went dormant, because the only filters I had for experiencing ballet were through my sisters and their direct-to-video ballet movies and specials. But I think the desire awoke again in college. I’m not sure what the catalyst was, but by senior year, I wanted to go see a production from BalletMet, Columbus’s premiere ballet company, and ballerinas started appearing in some of my story ideas (one of these days I’ll hopefully write most of those ideas). However, I could only really afford to see a show after I was employed long enough that paying for tickets wouldn’t break my bank account (turns out they’re actually pretty affordable compared to other forms of live entertainment, but I didn’t know that until recently).

Thus last April I saw Romeo & Juliet, and absolutely loved it. The combination of music, acting, costume and choreography to tell a story was beautiful and mesmerizing, and at the end, actually a little heartbreaking. I even had an idea for a ballet a day or two after seeing the show (BalletMet, email me! We’ll make an original production people will love!). It’s no surprise I’ve made a point to see more shows since then. And after watching a few shows, I’ve noticed some interesting things about the medium:

  1. It’s not just an art form, it’s also a sport. Ballet requires feats of the body that are similar to what athletes go through. They train for several hours a day, several days a week; some dancers need to build their upper body strength, especially for lifting other dancers; some leaps and dance moves look right out of a gymnastics or track and field competition; and dancers get some of the same injuries professional sports players get. It’s definitely a lot more involved than just twirling around on a stage and looking pretty, as some people might think.
  2. The stories are often simple. Not to say they’re stupid or without depth, but the stories in ballet are often a lot easier to understand than something like Game of Thrones, which is based a lot in various histories, plots, intrigues, mythologies, etc and would be difficult to convey through dance alone. They’re more often based in love stories or fairy tales, things everyone can get without much difficulty. And that’s good, in my opinion. After all, despite being considered “cultured,” ballet is supposed to be an art form for the masses to enjoy (ironic, given that the form first arose as a way to instruct Italian noble children on how to act in court). It makes sense that the stories would be aimed at the masses, rather than at only a tiny segment.

    The Willis at the end of Giselle last night.

  3. Ballet is a lot like watching a silent film. Because ballet is entirely without dialogue (with a few exceptions, like the first act of Fall River Legend), facial and body language is almost as important as being able to dance. Joy, rage or anguish, it’s important to convey how the character feels in any situation. In that sense, dancers are very much like modern silent film actors (without the make-up that makes them look like serial killers, of course).
  4. Filler moments. This is what I call moments when ballet extends certain scenes with dance routines not necessarily connected to the plot. As I said, ballet is sans dialogue, which would be used to lengthen plays or musicals. So instead they have longer dance sequences that may not be connected to the plot. In Swan Lake, there’s a sequence where Odette and Siegfried are offstage and the other swan dancers do a dance for a few minutes before the protagonists arrive back on stage, for example. It doesn’t really have much to do with the actual conflict of the story, but it’s very well done and extends the ballet so we feel like we got our money’s worth.
    Not that this is just something done to extend the show’s runtime. At times, it makes sense to have these filler moments. For example, Giselle takes place during a fall harvest festival. During the production I saw last night, there were various dance sequences in the first act where only male dancers would dance, then female dancers, then children, then lovers, etc. And this feels like something that would happen during a village harvest festival, various dances that different groups of people would take part in. This makes the illusion of the show feel more real and not just a performance.

    The main characters of Giselle.

    And at other times, filler moments allow for some amazing creativity and storytelling: in Romeo & Juliet, when Juliet is deciding whether or not to take the potion to fake her death, they actually show her struggling with whether or not to go through with her choice, and then is confronted by the ghosts of Petruchio and Tybalt, as if to remind her of what she’ll be apart of if she doesn’t take the potion. That’s not something you’d see in the original stageplay, and is something that could only be born from a performance without dialogue. Similarly, during the second act of Giselle, when we meet the supernatural spirits the Willis, we get some interesting dance moves that intimate to the audience that these are ghosts that act as one on a mission. It is really amazing.

As you can tell, I’ve gotten a lot out of going to the ballet. And with more shows out there to find and watch, I hope I can see them and get even more from them. The creativity, blending of music, dance and storytelling, and the devotion and work put into productions is why ballet has endured for so many years, and why it will continue to endure and evolve over time. And if you get the chance, I highly encourage you to go take in a show. You never know what you may experience.

The Shining is considered one of the greatest horror films ever made, based on one Stephen King’s greatest novels. It’s still widely enjoyed today, has been very influential on a number of films and filmmakers, and has led to numerous theories about its deeper meanings, ranging anywhere from the Holocaust or Native American genocides to faking the moon landing. Yet when it was released, audiences and critics didn’t care for the film. Variety actually called it “a disappointment,” and Stephen King himself hates this film with a passion. Director Stanley Kubrick himself has garnered controversy for overworking and even abusing cast and crew during the production of this film.

I disliked this film immensely after I saw it in middle school, which was right after I read the novel. But I’ve since learned a lot about the film’s production and influence. And given the reasons I hated the film (see below), I’m wondering if my opinion needs a change. Let’s find out.

WHAT IT’S ABOUT: The Shining follows the Torrance family, who have come to the historic Overlook Hotel to be its winter caretakers. Isolated and cut off from the world, the Hotel’s supernatural side comes out to play, leading to a horrifying descent into madness and murder.

WHY I DIDN’T LIKE IT: It strayed too far from the source material. Not kidding, I hated the film simply because of how much changed from book to movie, to the point it drove out all my other reactions to the film (I can be a real purist sometimes). I actually preferred the 1997 television miniseries based on the movie because it was more faithful to the book,* and no other reason.

WHY I’M REWATCHING IT: Well, you hear so much about how great the film is, and you learn a bit about its production and legacy, and you realize how much a movie differs from its source material isn’t always a bad thing. Kind of warrants rewatching it.

THOUGHTS: That was a rather unsettling slow-burner, wasn’t it?

I’ll give the film this, it knows how to set up a creepy atmosphere with great visuals and sound. For one thing, the hotel is so distinct that it’s a character all onto itself. But it’s the way that Kubrick films the hotel and the characters in it that’s great. The whole film is shot with a wide-angle lens, which means we always see the characters alone in these vast spaces. On top of that, when close-ups are done, the wide-angle lens distorts the characters’ faces, giving the film a sense of surrealism and unreality. Add in the soundtrack, which sounds more like several clashing soundtracks playing at once. Heartbeats, eerie chanting, electronic music, symphonic pieces, all playing at once. It is creepy as hell.

I also like the reveals of scares. The camera always focus on the characters’ reactions to a scare before they show the scare. We see Wendy’s reaction to what Jack has been writing before we actually see it. We see Danny’s reaction to the little girls before the little girls are actually shown. That’s not something normally done in horror.

And finally, the film takes its time setting up the horror. It doesn’t rush in to showing us the gruesome haunting nature of the Overlook, but gives us time to see how isolated the characters are before introducing elements to show how their insanity is growing/the hotel is alive. It’s pretty effective.

However, I did have some issues with the movie. For one, the actors and the characters they portray. I didn’t care for either, really. Jack Nicholson is pretty good at playing a madman, but in my experience, that’s all his performances, and there’s not much transition between normal Jack Torrance to insane Jack Torrance. Shelley Duvall as Wendy…I don’t know what it was, but I just got annoyed with her every time she was on screen. And Danny Lloyd as Danny (ha!) was passable, but let’s face it, the character in the movie isn’t as fleshed out or as deep as he is in the movie. You could change the actor out, and it wouldn’t make that much difference, because Danny in the movie is very flat.

On top of that, I wasn’t ever that scared by the film. True, seeing Jack go after his wife and son with an ax is pretty threatening, but he doesn’t actually hurt them or get close to doing so. And while the film is good at keeping that creepy atmosphere going, it never truly escalates to the point where I feel myself shift from terror.

And like I said, the novel is phenomenal. Was it really that necessary to make so many changes from the source material? Also, what’s with that photo in the last shot? Was Jack reincarnated from a previous caretaker? Did he travel through time? I don’t get it! Explain movie! Explain!

FINAL JUDGMENT: I have a feeling this opinion is going to rile some people. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving The Shining a 3.5. It’s creepy and visually creative, but the actors/characters aren’t that great, and the lack of terror, unexplained final shot, and important changes from the source material are issues that detract from my viewing.

Sad to say, it’s just not a film for me.

 

Well, at least I got that film out of the way. And with The Shining watched, I only have two films to go. Though I have a feeling this next one might be painful to watch…

Until next time, Followers of Fear, pleasant nightmares.

*And now I may have to get that miniseries again just to get a fresh opinion (Rewatch series 2?). And I’ll have to rewatch Room 237, the documentary on The Shining movie and people’s interpretations of it. And maybe reread the book? It’s been at least a decade, so I don’t remember it that well. And I should really get to reading Doctor Sleep, the sequel to The Shining. Especially since a movie version’s on the way.

I have a lot of work ahead of me.

I’ve mentioned it before, but short stories are often hard for me. And one aspect of writing those that I often have trouble with is the very first part of any short story. Openings. They give me grief.

With novels, I have a lot of room to maneuver around. After all, even a short novel is around sixty-thousand words (and mine are never that short). With all those words, I can take a lot of time and space just setting up the scenario of the story. Take my novel Rose, for example: if we count Chapter One as the opening, that’s sixteen pages and nearly five-thousand words just devoted to setting up the story. And I’m very used to writing this way. I like long, expansive stories. I grew up on a diet of Harry Potter, and in my teens delved into the novels of Anne Rice, Stephen King, and Dan Brown. No one could accuse those guys of being short.

But if I’m writing a short story, the highest word count to still count as a short story is ten-thousand. And if I want to get published in most magazines, the limit is usually around six-thousand. So while I’m used to opening a story with about five-thousand words, or half the length of the longest short story, I now have to try to contain my openings into a much shorter length.

The struggle is real.

Because of this need for brevity, one of the things I sometimes end up doing when I write a short story, at least in the beginning, is to use a lot of exposition. And in some stories, exposition is good. It helps fill in essential information. But in other cases, exposition is just…bad. Instead of actually presenting the story,  the author is just explaining things. Telling you stuff. It’d be like if instead of actually showing Harry Potter growing up, learning about his heritage, and going to Hogwarts, it’d be like JK Rowling wrote, “There was a boy named Harry Potter. One day he found out he was a wizard, his parents died saving him from an evil wizard, who disappeared and gave him a scar in a process, and then he went off to wizard school.”

I often worry that when I do exposition in short stories, it’s the latter kind. Which probably means it is the latter kind. That may be cynicism on my part, but when you’re still inexperienced at something, you’re prone to making mistakes. So perhaps I really am using exposition, and in all the wrong ways too.

Luckily, there are a few things I’m trying to remedy that. One is that I’m keeping in mind something important: I’m writing first drafts. And first drafts are always terrible. Even if they contain intriguing stories, they’re rife with issues that require lots of fixing. This is why we writers edit, multiple times if necessary, before we publish. Heck, Rose had to go through four drafts before I felt it was ready to be sent out to a publisher. And likely if a publisher does like it, they’ll probably have me do a fifth or even a sixth draft before they’re ready to publish.

So if I feel an opening needs work, I can edit it in the next draft, and remove any bad exposition or other problems with the opening I spot.

Hopefully I can improve this part of short stories.

And sometimes, I don’t even need to wait (and this is my second method, by the way). Sometimes a way to fix a short story’s opening comes to you just while you’re writing it. On Friday, I started a new short story that I think has potential. I think I got four hundred words in before I stopped, but then I was like, “Is this really the opening I want?” And as I thought about it, it wasn’t. But how to fix it? And yesterday at some point–I think it was right before I saw Winchester–a way to change the opening occurred to me.  I think this is the right way to open the story without going into exposition. So the next time I work on the story, I’m going go back and rewrite the opening, see if this produces better results. And if it doesn’t, there’s always something new to try. Or I can go back to my original opening. After all, it’s a first draft. I can make as many adjustments as needed.

And finally, I’m reading a lot more short stories than I’m used to. I learned how to write novels partly from reading novels, so reading short stories should help me get an idea on how to write them. I’ve already listened to two anthologies on audio book, and I just started reading the Stephen King collection Night Shift on Friday. So far, they’ve been very helpful, but I’ll need to read a lot more to get a better sense of short story writing.

And finally, I just need more practice. After all, you become a writer by writing in the first place, and continuing to write no matter what. With any luck, more practice with short stories will lead to better ones. Hopefully, anyway.

I’m still trying to be a better short story writer, and openings are still hard for me. But with practice and exposure to good ones, I can hopefully make some progress on that. And who knows? Maybe even produce some stories that a magazine will be proud to publish. Anything’s possible, right?

 

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’ve been looking at a screen for most of the day, so I’m going to take a break and read something. Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

A bit of background before I start this review: in case you didn’t know, or you’ve never read my third list of haunted locations I want to visit, the Winchester Mansion, known today as the Winchester Mystery House, is quite real. It was first started in 1884, but was continually worked on and added onto, around the clock, for nearly forty years. Sarah Winchester, the widow of the owner of the Winchester Rifle Company, believed that the spirits of those killed by her husband’s company’s rifles were after her family and had previously killed her husband and infant daughter. On the advice of a medium, she moved out to California and started building a house that doubled as a maze, meant to confuse the spirits who were after her family. She kept adding onto the house until her death, after which work completely ceased. The house is now a national landmark, and is reputedly haunted to the brim. It is this house, its mistress, and its hauntings that this movie is based on.

Everyone got that? Good.

Winchester follows Jason Clarke as a troubled psychiatrist who is sent by the Winchester Rifle Company to evaluate Mrs. Winchester’s mental state to see if she’s still fit to be a majority shareholder. Mrs. Winchester, played by Helen Mirren, allows the psychiatrist into her home at the same time as a powerful and angry spirit arrives. Together, they must confront this spirit before it kills every member of the Winchester family, and then some.

I went with a friend to see this film. I don’t know what my friend was expecting, but I was hoping, based on the trailer and what the film is based on, that it would be decent at least. At the end, we both agreed it wasn’t that.

Winchester suffers from a number of issues. One of the biggest issues is script. The film’s story is underwhelming, bogged down in exposition and with a villain who, while in concept sounds cool, in execution seems kind of boring. The villain actually reminds me of people’s reactions to Helmut Zemo in Captain America: Civil War. This is a character that’s supposed to be powerful and menacing, but for a lot of audience members (not me, though), the character’s film treatment was not intimidating and lacked menace. For me, Winchester’s villain was like that.

Another issue is the scares. There are a few good jumpscares and creepy imagery, but other than that, the movie isn’t that scary. It tries to build atmosphere, but it doesn’t go as far as it could to build an atmosphere. In other films, we’d see ghost children running in the background, shadows threatening to attack a character before someone walks in and interrupts. Stuff in other films that works very effectively. If we had more of that, the film might actually be a little scary.

I also didn’t care for Jason Clarke’s performance. He’s never been my favorite actor, but this time he was just terrible. Half the time he just mumbled his lines. After the film I just looked at my friend and I was like, “Would it have killed him to speak up?”

But the biggest thing going against the film, at least in my opinion, is the house itself. Or rather, the lack of the house. The actual Winchester Mystery House is a gargantuan structure: four stories, 161 rooms, two bathrooms, seventeen chimneys, two basements, three elevators. Stairs going nowhere, doors that open onto sheer drops, skylights and windows, etc. Even fake bathrooms. An entire maze of a house. But we wouldn’t know it, based on how little we see. A few key hallways and rooms, and some stairs for the arthritic, but barely anything else. If you never saw one set of stairs or a few key exterior shots, you would never know that the house was as huge and confusing as it is. I know the film didn’t have a huge budget, but come on! If you’re going to make a film about a giant maze-house, utilize the maze-house! You could probably make for a more exciting climax if you did that!

Did the film have any good points? Well, Helen Mirren as Sarah Winchester was actually kind of badass. She’s portrayed as this strong woman who works through her grief by battling the supernatural every day, and she doesn’t care what you think of that. It’s pretty cool. That, and the costumes and rooms, what rooms we see, anyway, look true to the time and are absolutely beautiful.

But that’s it. It’s not exactly awful, but it’s not very good either. It’s just below average.

On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving Winchester a 1.5. There’s a lot of potential in the concept, but this film definitely did not live up to it, producing an unremarkable period piece trying to be a good horror film. So if you’re looking to be scared, I suggest skipping this one entirely. It’s all bark, and absolutely no bite.