So. This looks like a history of the Winchester gun family, their travails in the California earthquake of 1906, and Helen Mirren‘s woes as the ageing widow and owner of the firm, Sarah Winchester. And – if you concentrate past the floods of adrenaline and screams from Mad Maud – you might just pick up on one or two truths amongst the never-happened fiction on-screen. For this is horror, not history, and not-true-at-all not reality. Hey-ho, Mirren is interestingly-accented once more and fab as old Widow Winchester.
So. The nearly-true bit is that Sarah Winchester dealt with her inheritance by taking a perfectly serviceable house and building and building and building until it became a warren of dead ends, needless rooms and low-rise steps to compensate for her fearful arthritis. So far so Rampilicious Rita from E Wing, who last strode anywhere in the gales of ’86.
The rest is bollocks.
Huge, steaming – MONSTER FACE! – bollocks. And kind of fun in an incoherent way: our hero is a laudanum dabbling widower in his 40s sent to the house to determine Mirren’s sanity. His own isn’t exactly great, given the drugs (tut) give him access to pissed off spirits sat behind mirrors, crawling out of small, dark spaces or across doorways. He carries the bullet that once killed him for a few minutes, so this may be linked to his psyche, his recovery, his drugs-and-whores habits or a ghastly – MONSTER FACE! – truth about the ever-growing house. He even has the occasional chat with a wildly threatening butler-type who seems to leave all the builders alone. And those poor bastards work 24-7.
So, Doctor Eric Price (the nearly stolid Jason Clarke) ploughs through the weirdness, trying to get to know Dame Helen. She rebuffs him, given the Board of Directors is plainly using him to topple her from the company, and challenges him uncomfortably on his drug habits. He watches her at night, just to honour the creepy, and sees her slip into a trance at the hand of an evil spirit. I’m cursed, she tells him later…
Oh yeah, there’s a ginger kid in the house who keeps getting taken over as well. His eyes go white when this happens, which pretty much kills the mystery in his first scene. And there’s sleep-walking and walking off unfinished balconies. Irritating little git. Price catches him as he plummets to his nearly-death which warms things up with Mirren and the kid’s mum Marion (Sarah Snook looking for hooks in a thankless role), but there isn’t much character or logic on display. Winchester becomes all scares.
So. Again. old Widow Winchester is building rooms for ghosts, who pop nails from locked doors, flash at you and gobble up your adrenaline by sort-of telling a story about gun control. Cos the curse is to be pursued by a few spirits particularly pissed off to have been killed by Winchester guns.
There’s not much here for oldsters looking to see themselves at play. If you’ve been cursed, you may get something from this film. If you’ve been very specifically cursed by an old witch with a clear agenda and a decent grip on CGI, this isn’t for you. Blurry and unfocused? Jump on in.
Mirren is oddly modern in a real-person part. Clarke flips from debauched to medically competent and alarmed. He gets to look his own secret in the face at one point and very nearly grows as a person… But this is all about the shocks. Mad Maud was a hyper mess at the half-way point and properly intolerable come the bemusing ending. Old Jack here was exhausted and tired: if the spirits were in such a piss with Mirren, why not just kill her…?
If it’s coming for you, make sure the defibrillator is within reach. You won’t be needing your brain.