Directors: Michael Spierig and Peter Spierig
Screenwriters: The Spierig Brothers and Tom Vaughan
Runtime: 108 mins.
Australian Release Date: 22 February 2018
Previewed at: Paramount Theatrette, Pyrmont, Sydney, on 5 February 2018.
Picture this… a crazy heiress (or is she? cue spooky music) living in a haunted mansion and a laudanum-addicted psychiatrist sent to check on her sanity because she’s spending her millions on never-ending renovations - then slap a ‘based on a true story’ under the title - and surely you have the makings of a guaranteed winner? Well, you would think so, but unfortunately this is not the case for the Spierig Brothers’ latest film, Winchester. Regrettably, it’s a rather predictable ghost story, except when things go bump in the night when you least expect them, as they should in a genre flick like this.
Sarah Winchester (Helen Mirren) is the grief-stricken heiress to the Winchester rifle fortune after the untimely deaths of both her beloved husband and her infant daughter. Believing that she is haunted by the ghosts of all those killed by her company’s rifles, she begins construction of a vast mansion outside San Jose, near San Francisco. The house is a haven for the tormented spirits because Sarah endlessly recreates the rooms in which they were shot, making a kind of prison for them or, perhaps more correctly, an asylum? Sarah lives with a relative Marion Marriott (Sarah Snook) and her son Henry (Fin Scicluna-O’Prey), who seems to be possessed by a particularly dangerous entity. A psychiatrist, Dr. Eric Price (Jason Clarke), is brought in by the Winchester Company to assess Sarah’s sanity because they think she is out of control, frittering away her multi-million dollar inheritance on her folly. Price, however, carries a burden of his own, having lost his wife Ruby (Laura Brent) in tragic circumstances, and he holds a secret which comes to light while he resides at the mansion. This all takes place just prior to the great 1906 earthquake that rocked the region. Although it caused massive damage, the Winchester Mystery House remained largely intact, and still does to this day. It is considered to be the ‘most haunted house in America.’
Winchester is an old-fashioned supernatural horror flick that doesn’t rely solely on CGI effects to occasionally scare the pants of its audience. Mirren portrays Sarah with a kind of icy calm which works well alongside Clarke’s drug-addled doctor, who the spirits seem to seek out. At times the story gets quite complex so, unlike many films of the genre, Winchester requires a certain level of concentration to keep up with the plot, which goes into overdrive once the spirits begin to reveal themselves. You could read all of this as a metaphor for the current state of gun mayhem in the USA as mass shootings appear to be out of control but that may be taking things too far. Still, it might be worth keeping the idea in mind as you watch this latest Spierig Brothers’ film. It’s a lesser movie than their impressive Predestination but it’s an intriguing story all the same.