Ghost Bust

Winchester fails to spook, scare or entertain

Helen Mirren in Winchester
Helen Mirren in Winchester

Towards the end of Winchester, the new haunted house movie starring Helen Mirren and Jason Clarke, a character has a moment where she says the words "I am not afraid" repeatedly.

My sentiments, exactly.

Helen Mirren and Jason Clarke head a decent cast in what proves to be a ghost movie totally void of any real scares, personality or real reasons to sit down and watch it. The acting is terrible, the editing is sloppy and the special effects are third rate. It's all very surprising considering it was directed by Michael and Perter Spierig, the brothers who put together the inventive science fiction thriller, Predestination.

Clarke plays Eric Price, a doctor addicted to drugs and alcohol. His wife died due to a self-inflicted gunshot wound via a Winchester rifle, a rifle he also took a bullet from but survived. (The script alludes to the notion that he was dead for three minutes before being brought back to life, so he might be able to see dead people.) Members of "the board" at the Winchester firearms company want Eric to evaluate the mental health of company owner Sarah Winchester (Mirren), hoping that the disgraced doctor will basically take their bribe, declare Sarah unfit to run her company and strip her of company control.

Eric has nothing better to do, so he takes the gig and travels to the infamous house, an admittedly cool looking, giant abode that makes an actual appearance in the film. Upon seeing the real life haunted house on screen, I was hoping for a haunted house spectacle like Kubrick's The Shining which featured the labyrinthine Overlook Hotel.

What we get is a ghost movie that trots out the same old tricks from countless ghost movies before it. Ghosts suddenly appearing accompanied by loud soundtrack sting? Check. Ghosts appearing in a mirror after its user adjusts it? Check. Little possessed kids singing a well-known song in that oh-so-creepy possessed kid kind of way? Check.

The actual Winchester house has an impressive ghost story to go with it. The real Sarah Winchester, after inheriting the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, actually did believe the house was inhabited by the spirits of those who fell victim to Winchester rifles. One would think that could make for a snappy movie, but there's just a bunch of nonsense involving Mirren's Sarah nailing all the rooms shut and trying to avoid getting killed by her possessed, super-annoying grandson. There's also the spectacle of Clarke doing some embarrassingly bad drunk-stoned guy acting.

The special effects ghosts are laughable but, even worse, are the ghosts played by people wearing practical makeup. Doctor Price has a scene with his deceased wife where she looks more like somebody who tried to put her makeup on with the lights off rather than a ghost. I know it would just make the movie even more cliché, but ghosts should be see through, right? When it's just an actor or actress standing around in bad makeup, it looks like somebody from the local junior high production of Jeepers, I Got Spooked By Ghosts in My Mom's Basement crashed the film set.

There's a ghost in this movie who poses as a servant on the Winchester staff. This got me to thinking: Where did the ghost get his Winchester employee uniform to pull off his afterlife employee impersonation scheme? Is there a special costume warehouse in the afterlife where mischievous ghosts can go rent them? When we die, are we empowered with massive seamstress and tailoring abilities to go with our powers to pass through walls and shit, making it possible for this ghost to make the uniform himself? Or do ghosts looking to start trouble simply grab previously worn uniforms off the rack at Savers? Do they consult with Beetlejuice?

See, this is the kind of crap that crowded my mind while watching this thing. The movie is one long scene after another of Mirren and Clarke trying to make sense out of the mess. I suspect we'll be talking about this one again in about 10 months when we are compiling our year's worst lists.

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