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Winchester does little to add depth to its story

Horror film stays typical to its genre 

Photo courtesy of IMDb

The Winchester Mystery House was built in 1884 by Sarah Winchester, who became the heiress to 50 percent of the Winchester Repeating Firearms company after her husband William passed away. The house is widely known as the most haunted house in America, with its resident ghosts rumored to be those who were killed by a Winchester firearm. Sarah kept the home under continuous construction because she wanted to give the victims of Winchester gun violence rooms to call home—160 rooms and seven stories to be exact.

While the house remains alive and well in San Jose, the new movie Winchester, starring Oscar-Winning actress Helen Mirren, is as dead as a doornail. Directed and co-written by Austrian-German brothers Michael and Peter Spierig, the ghost-in-a-box thriller doesn’t do Sarah’s story justice.

The plot focuses on the other board members of the Winchester Repeating Firearms Company wanting to prove Sarah unfit to hold her remaining 50 percent of the company due to her eccentricities. Those eccentricities include her non-stop  building on the house, belief in spirits who live there, and dabbling in the occult. To prove the conspiracy, they hire laudanum-addicted physician Eric Price (Jason Clarke) to make a professional visit and pay him off to write the assessment they want.

What they didn’t count on was the fact Price is haunted by the ghost of his wife who committed suicide by—wait for it—a gunshot. We all know that guns can kill and the antagonist of this tale is a Confederate soldier whose brothers were killed by Union soldiers seeking his revenge on Sarah herself. There is a lot of stair climbing, a stereotypical red-headed little boy possessed by the ghost of the soldier, faces melting, and spirits popping out from behind doorways—cue predictability.

Winchester is a poor attempt at telling a truly compelling story with far more depth than the popcorn bucket Winchester brings to the screen. Mirren, through some of her junket interviews, exhibited excitement about the role and story, but the vision of the Spierig brothers fell short on the cutting room floor.

Mirren’s best moment on screen was during the parlor interview moments with Price, where she came off as intuitive and calculating. On the other hand, there were moments where she was held up in a crucifix-esque pose by the soldier that were far-fetched, unnatural, and cheesy.

Price had his own sub-plot and was inherently drawn to the garden room sealed up by 13 nails—the price unruly spirits pay for not being able to behave themselves—and had to face his own ghosts there.

The story would have been far more believable if told through a psychological thriller lens versus a  yawn-worthy, run-of-the-mill shocker. While the real house is a maze of beautifully crafted rooms, doors, and original Tiffany stained-glass windows, the movie is a booby trap of predictable horror garnering Mirren and cast nothing more than a check box for their resumes. They’ll be quick to seal this film up in a room of its own, complete with 13 nails, never to be heard from again.

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