×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Winchester’

Helen Mirren plays a spirit seeker who keeps building rooms onto her haunted mansion in a loopy gothic thriller about (wait for it) gun violence.

Director:
Michael Spierig, Peter Spierig
With:
Helen Mirren, Jason Clarke, Sarah Snook, Angus Sampson, Laura Brent, Tyler Coppin, Eamon Farren, Thor Carlsson, Emm Wiseman.
Release Date:
Feb 2, 2018

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1072748/

Even the most tepid gothic thriller can be “original,” and “Winchester” qualifies: Set in 1906, it’s the first (and probably the last) ghost story to be haunted by the spirit of gun control. Helen Mirren, taking a paycheck role but incapable of slumming (or, at least, incapable of doing so without giving it her all), plays the real-life historical character Sarah Winchester, the turn-of-the-century California widow whose late husband, William Wirt Winchester, left her a 50 percent stake in the Winchester Repeating Arms Co. Mirren, her silver hair swirled into a Victorian bun, a black crepe dress buttoned up to her neck, speaks in an American accent, with a voice of calmly possessed clarity. Sarah sees ghosts everywhere, but she isn’t scared of them. She wants to help them. They’re the spirits of people killed by those dastardly rifles her husband invented.

The way that she helps them is to never, ever stop building rooms onto her sprawling San Jose mansion, a colossal gray Victorian with teal trim and red roofs. To say that she’s renovating the seven-story, 100-room structure wouldn’t do the project justice — the house is metastasizing. Carpenters work on it round-the-clock, sawing and hammering all night long, and the place is a loopy labyrinth of alcoves and walkways and boxy carved chambers. It’s like a cozy bed-and-breakfast the size of Xanadu, as designed by M.C. Escher. The point of all this labor is to give the ghosts a place to come and heal. But some of the spirits don’t cooperate. They’re so testy they need to be locked away, sealed into their rooms with 13 nails.

The Winchester Mystery House, as it’s known, is a legendary tourist attraction (according to San Jose folklore, it really is said to be haunted by the ghosts of people killed by Winchester rifles). But in “Winchester,” Sarah’s paranormal real-estate fetishism is more than a wealthy widow’s eccentricity — it’s a compassionate gesture offered to the victims of gun violence. The board of the Winchester Repeating Arms Co., however, thinks she’s gone around the bend, and are using that as an excuse to take away her stake.

To accomplish this, they hire a dissolute physician, Dr. Eric Price (Jason Clarke), to move in and do a psychiatric evaluation of her; basically, they pay him to declare her mentally unstable. What they don’t count on is that Price is a laudanum addict haunted by visions of his late wife, who killed herself (yes) with a gunshot. The movie’s villain, meanwhile, is the melty-faced, vengeful Jack-in-the-box spirit of a Confederate corporal whose brothers were killed by Union soldiers. “Winchester” is the supernatural-schlock version of a liberal think-tank paper. It says, “Look at all the ways guns can kill — and turn people into ghosts.”

Sarah may not be crazy, but the film seems slightly nuts. It was directed and co-written by Michael and Peter Spierig, the German-Australian filmmaking brothers who made the showy, overblown “Daybreakers” (2014) as well as the recent torture-porn sequel “Jigsaw,” and they’re trying, for once, to be “restrained.” But that just means that there’s drawing-room dialogue between Jason Clarke and Helen Mirren that sounds like it came out of a Vincent Price movie; mostly, it’s there to break up the routine ghostly shock cuts. Mirren does all she can to look like she’s having fun, but “Winchester” isn’t a movie about acting. It’s an empty grab bag of a spook show in which the Spierig brothers never do figure out a way to turn the Winchester Mystery House into an exhilarating movie set. It’s more like a hardwood maze that traps us.

Film Review: 'Winchester'

Reviewed at Regal Union Square, New York, Feb. 1, 2018. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 99 MIN.

Production: A Lionsgate, CBS Films release of a Bullitt Entertainment, Blacklab Entertainment, Diamond Pictures, Imagination Design Works production. Producers: Tim McGahan, Brett Tomberlin. Executive producers: Tobin Armbrust, Benedict Carver, Daniel Diamond, Brian J. Gilbert, Antonia Lianos, Simon Oakes, Marc Schipper, Andrew Trapani.

Crew: Directors: Michael Spierig, Peter Spierig. Screenplay: Michael Spierig, Peter Spierig, Tom Vaughn. Camera (color, widescreen): Ben Nott. Editor: Matt Villa.

With: Helen Mirren, Jason Clarke, Sarah Snook, Angus Sampson, Laura Brent, Tyler Coppin, Eamon Farren, Thor Carlsson, Emm Wiseman.

More Film

  • MGM logo

    MGM Hires Robert Marick to Expand Consumer Products

    Metro Goldwyn Mayer has hired industry veteran Robert Marick as executive VP of global consumer products and experiences. In his new role, Marick is responsible for overseeing the expansion of MGM’s traditional merchandise, interactive and consumer products business. He’s also developing a global strategy with a focus on core consumer products licensing, digital and gaming, [...]

  • Robert Iger and Rupert Murdochcredit: Disney

    Wall Street Applauds as Disney Nears Finish Line on Fox Acquisition

    Wall Street is rooting for Disney as the media giant reaches the finish line this week in its 15-month quest to acquire most of Rupert Murdoch’s film and TV empire. Fox shareholders, on the other hand, are being a little more cautious. Disney is poised to close the $71.3 billion deal that took many twists [...]

  • Personal Tales From Hong Kong, China

    Personal Tales From Hong Kong and China Among the Asia Film Financing Forum Projects

    A brace of personal tales from China and Hong Kong are among the 23 projects vying for attention at the 17th Hong Kong Asia Film Financing Forum. Liu Miaomiao is a rare female ethnic Hui Muslim filmmaker. She came to international prominence with 1993’s “Chatterbox” that won the President of the Italian Senate’s Gold Medal [...]

  • Josie Ho Makes 2019 the Year

    Josie Ho Makes 2019 the Year She Takes Risks in Her Film Choices

    Josie Ho vows to master the art of calculated risk in the year 2019. As an actress and film producer, she is conscious of the choices of projects she makes: appearing in the new film by Japanese hotshot director Shinichiro Ueda, producing a new documentary feature while developing some 10 titles in the pipeline of [...]

  • FilMart: Big Data, Content Key to

    FilMart: Big Data, Content Key to iQIYI's Online Ambitions

    Tech and data play a huge role for iQIYI, China’s second-largest streaming platform, as a way to innovate and step out ahead of its competitors, iQIYI founder and CEO Yu Gong explained in a keynote speech Monday at FilMart. “We don’t see a lot of innovation-driven entertainment companies yet. We want to be the one,” [...]

  • Ted Sarandos and Thierry Fremaux'Okja' photocall,

    Despite Ongoing Peace Talks, Netflix Won't Have Any Movies at Cannes 2019 (EXCLUSIVE)

    Although Netflix and the Cannes Film Festival continue quietly to negotiate a potential settlement to their differences, the streaming giant will be absent from the Croisette again this year with no film in or out of competition, Variety has learned. The ongoing talks between the two sides have been friendly, including a dinner in Los [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content