Even with Dame Helen Mirren leading, Winchester backfires
In 1881, a widow found herself owning 50 percent of a most profitable company. She headed West and began building a monstrous home, adding rooms, number 13 and spider-web motifs because, reportedly, she felt haunted by restless spirits of the dead—victims of the business she’d inherited, the Winchester Repeating Arms Company.
Now, a herstory-horror turns the legend of Sarah Winchester and her mystery manor into the terribly tiresome tour of a haunted house.
The main character, as expected, is that massive San Jose mansion (with 161 rooms, 10,000 windows, 2,000 doors, 47 fireplaces, and 40 staircases when construction was halted by its owner’s death in 1922). But it becomes a wax-museum of apparitions stuck in a gabled, and garbled, poltergeist plot.
The laudanum-dropping Dr. Price (Jason Clarke) is summoned from San Francisco by the company’s board to determine if the un-merry widow Winchester (Helen Mirren) should remain head of the firm. A niece (Sarah Snook) and her son Henry (Finn Scicluna O’Prey) are staying, too, just so the boy can be possessed now and then.
Spirits predictably pop up long before the rifle-littered climax. Any chance of a Poe-ish parable about the plague of gun-violence in America has been blown to smithereens. (Despite prohibiting firearms, Sarah has a gunroom installed to placate the worst-ever ghoul of Christmas past, whose backstory is basically America’s first workplace-massacre—wreaked out of belated revenge for Civil War deaths 20 years earlier.)
By the time SoCal’s fairy-gunmother realizes the power of the blessed bullet Price still carries with him, well, this seismic spook-fest becomes a snooze-fest with more soporific power than the damned doctor’s opium.
Forget this flick’s dull conversations, hackneyed conceits, and sluggish atmosphere. For a truly haunting story of Winchester-related business, consider the mogul-terrifying legend of the 1950 western, Winchester ’73. James Stewart’s agent Lew Wasserman made a canny deal with Universal for the actor to get 50 percent of the film’s profits, but Wasserman’s agency later bought Universal, so Wasserman was soon forced to accept the very profit-participation deals he’d concocted. Now, that’s backfiring.
Directed by Michael Spierig, Peter Spierig