'Winchester' Review: Real-Life Ghost Story Haunted By Sheer God-Awfulness

‘Winchester’ tells the story of the heiress who constructed a haunted house – and strands Helen Mirren in a truly god-awful horror movie. Our review. Credit: Ben King

It shouldn’t happen to anyone, much less a Dame – not a movie of such barreling awfulness as Winchester, which strands the great Helen Mirren in a gothic house of cards that collapses on actors and audiences alike. Dame Helen plays heiress Sarah Lockwood Winchester, a widow who inherited a bundle from her husband William, whose family founded the world-famous Winchester rifle company. Set in 1906, the film – jointly written and directed by those Aussie twins Michael and Peter Spierig, the one who recently inflicted the Saw sequel Jigsaw on paying customers – purports to be “inspired by actual events.” Ha! A paycheck seems the only real inspiration in a dud that’s about as truthful as a Trump tweet.

Which is too bad, because the nutjob premise of the film could have (and frankly, should have) yielded more than unintentional laughs. Sarah lives in San Jose, California, in a Victorian mansion that the neighbors call the “Mystery House.” The place, which tourists still visit today, is haunted by spirits that Sarah believes have been killed by shooters of the family’s firearms. She feels real guilty about that – so naturally, as more ghosts show up she keeps building new rooms to house them. A few of them are not so friendly; it requires 13 nails to hold up vengeful spirits in their rooms. Such generosity toward the undead doesn’t sit well with the suits that run her husband’s company, of course That’s why they send in Dr. Eric Price (a wasted Jason Clarke), an opiate junkie whose psychiatric evaluation is meant to send the widow off to the cuckoo’s nest. Then things start going bump in the night. 

No shock there … or anywhere else in this smothering blanket of cinematic bland. The Spierigs shamelessly pile on haunted-house clichés that lost their juice decades ago. Here’s a film so deadly dull that even Mirren can’t keep you awake. In lieu of suspense or tension, what we have instead is a fright-free fiasco that earnestly preaches gun control. Now that’s a true ticket to hell. 

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