Is that a gun in your pocket or are you just scared to see me?
‘Winchester’ has a haunted greenhouse, a haunted roller-skate and haunted chill airs
Helen Mirren, even in first gear, is better than no Mirren at all
Film Title: Winchester
Director: Michael Spierig and Peter Spierig
Starring: Helen Mirren, Sarah Snook, Jason Clarke
Running Time: 99 min
The Winchester Mystery House is a genuine Californian mansion – also known as The Most Haunted House in America – and was once the family residence of Sarah Winchester, widow of the firearm magnate William Winchester. According to legend and codswallop, the property is haunted by the ghosts of those killed with Winchester rifles. It’s a neat pitch for a tourist destination, and, indeed, a movie.
It helps that the widow Winchester (played here by Helen Mirren) had, at the beginning of the 20th century, a construction team working round the clock on extensions, bizarre adjuncts, and, what we are told is a “maze of halls, each more confusing than the next”.
Concerned by this unending project and by the widow’s belief in the supernatural, the Winchester Repeating Arms Company despatch a doctor to assess her “soundness of body and mind”. Said medic, Dr Price (Jason Clarke), is a laudanum addict and john, and calls to mind the phrase ‘physician, heal thyself’.
His worldly cynicism is soon punctured by a location where everything goes bump in the night. Creatures with milky eyes, blackened fingers and green-hued skin skulk in the house’s many, many, many nooks and crannies. There is a haunted greenhouse, a haunted roller-skate and haunted chill airs. The widow, it soon transpires, is taking bad architectural advice from beyond the grave, in the form of automatic writing. And it was she herself who hired the unreliable doctor, on account of his dark past, a history which is soon uncovered and outlined, along with the various mumbo-jumbo rules that govern the spooky abode.
As ghost-train spectacle goes, Winchester falls somewhere between the effective jump-scares of The Woman in Black, and the less effective jump-scares of The Woman in Black 2. The set design doesn’t excite as it ought to. Too many of the 500 rooms are nailed shut or off-limits. The frights could use better timing. The shouty subtext about gun violence doesn’t translate at all.
Still, Mirren, even in first gear, is better than no Mirren at all. And Jigsaw and Daybreakers directors the Spierig Brothers keep the thrills coming. This animated theme-park ride won’t scare genre veterans. But it’ll do as a Pot Noodle snack until such horror entrées as Hereditary, Cold Hell, and Mom and Dad arrive.