Published on February 25th, 2018


Starring Helen Mirren, Jason Clarke, Sarah Snook

Reviewed by Michael Dalton

Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆

The astounding new movie by Peter and Michael Spierig, Winchester, opens this week and it’s a corker. Inarguably the worst ghost story in recent memory (and not two weeks ago I snored through the latest Insidious chapter which this one beats by a mile for sheer awfulness), it is impossible to believe this brainless, derivative mess could be by the same filmmakers who gave us the action packed Daybreakers and the brilliant, cerebral Predestination, one of the greatest science fiction films of the century. Both those films were well thought out and fuelled by a cinematic intelligence that staggered the imagination and the eyes. But this? Winchester? What audience were they aiming for? It would make an eight year-old giggle.

Starring Helen Mirren, Jason Clarke, and Sarah Snook, this tension-free ghost story based on true events makes those reprehensible Furious movies look like Shakespeare. Set in 1906, the action takes place in a house in California (Australian landscapes and sets are unconvincingly used) and tells of the horrors that have dogged Sarah Winchester (Mirren), the heiress to the weaponry corporation. Spirits of those cursed one way or another by the dynasty’s rifles taunt her and even possess her as she continually constructs a mansion, adding room upon room for the spirits to be locked in and boarded up by wood with thirteen nails. Curiously there’s never a mention of how she manages to imprison them but my guess is they retreated out of boredom. The hook is admittedly a good one and would’ve been effective in capable hands but the Spierigs fumble this hot potato at every turn. In a once eerie image that is just plain laughable here, the always mourning Sarah glides about the house in a black gown and veil, carrying burning candles and communing on a nightly basis with the spirits who guide her hands to sketch floorplans for their living quarters (a bidet here, a spa there). Clarke is the grieving Eric Price, a drug addicted psychologist, who is called in to study Sarah and deliver a verdict on her state of mind (her board of directors are concerned their CEO is unhinged), deal with a creepy butler, a rattling cupboard, and an appalling screenplay while Sarah’s niece (Snook, who appears to be emulating Jodie Foster), swans about with her annoying, possessed son who pops up all over the house to scare…everybody.

The Spierigs may have demonstrated complete disregard for the intelligence levels of their audience but one must compliment them on their timing.  It strikes a blow for gun control, but, that movie shouldn’t come off like anaesthetic.