Chapter in an Edited Collection: The Grieving Dead: Haunting and the Haunted in “Winchester” (2018)

In cinematic investigations grief driven narratives frequently focus on the living, with the pain of loss as it is felt by those left behind the focal point of the story. In the case of the horror genre specifically, it is frequently the intense emotional response to loss and grief that manifests itself into the uncanny, horrific or sublime. With grief-stricken characters at the centre of cinematic narratives, audiences are left to confront how death and loss often haunt the living: spiritually, physically and mentally.

The Others (2001)

Examining grief from the opposite perspective, this chapter considers how the dead experience their loss of life and their relationships with the living world. Focusing on the 2018 film ‘Winchester’ as its primary text, it considers how cinematic narratives have imagined the unquiet afterlife and the strong emotional turmoil of those who die before their time. Although ‘Winchester’ received dubious box office reviews, the concept of the film, along with its cinematography provides a rich source material, while the fact that it is based upon the real-life story of Sarah Winchester and the historic Winchester (Mystery) House make it somewhat unique within the cannon of recent horror films. Within my discussion I draw heavily on the influence of Spiritualism to the plot of the film, whilst also examining the role of guilt in how loss and grief are processed throughout the narrative. The anger of the dead, who in this case have each been killed by a Winchester rifle, will be another primary consideration. ‘Winchester’ uses the captured spirit as an avenue through which audiences are encouraged to consider the ongoing impact of gun violence, which continues to be an issue in contemporary American society. In approaching an analysis of the film from this viewpoint, I consider how representations of death in popular culture texts are often a reflection of current social concerns, even if they are represented in the guise of historical narrative.

While the focus of my discussion will be ‘Winchester’ I also draw parallels to ‘The Sixth Sense’ (1999) and ‘The Others’ (2001), which are further examples of films in which the protagonists are dead and in which the plot revolves around representations of their grief. In the case of both of these secondary texts, the protagonists of the narrative have died as a result of gun violence, although in these cases, it is their grief and inability to accept death which is the focal point of the horror narrative. The examples also represent interesting parallels as they focus heavily on the idea of communicating with the dead. In the case of ‘The Others’ elements of Spiritualism and the use of séances are present, while in ‘The Sixth Sense’ the idea of communicating the last wishes of the dead serves as a primary function within the narrative. How the dead express their grief over the loss of life is, in all three films, the heart of the story.

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