Lest you believe I think Winchester is full of gooey love and soppy gazes, put that right out of your mind. I’ve been to the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose and the gothic, looming structure with its current 160 rooms is imposing and filled with an electric energy you can’t properly categorize. Sarah Winchester built those rooms for her own reasons, driven by the requests relayed by mediums and spiritualists to add on to her home literally around the clock since putting first nail to board in 1881, until her death in 1922. Only speculation as to what each individual room meant existed – until now. The Sp
Sarah Winchester (Helen Mirren) is a woman in the throes of deep unabiding grief. Losing her husband a and infant daughter quarter of a Century before she believes her substantial wealth is cursed by the ghosts of the people killed by any number of the firearms produced by the company that bears her late husband’s name. As a 51% owner of the company whose sole purpose is to turn out weapons of murder and death, her atonement is to build repeatedly on her home, taking down rooms, and building new ones. Eric Price (Jason Clarke) has been retained by Arthur Gates (Tyler Coppin) of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company to assess her mental condition. They aren’t interested in absorbing her wealth, just of her stake in the company. Her ideas to diversify the manufacturing into other areas not related guns could cost the company its bottom line and Gates can’t allow that.
Dr. Eric Price has his own demons to deal with, primarily with the death of his wife Ruby (Laura Brent) and his own brief death a few years prior. His addiction to laudanum and the debt that comes from chronic addiction are the hook and cage Gates to secure a “not fit” assessment to force her out. Eric’s guide is Sarah’s personal secretary and widowed niece, Marion (Sarah Snook), whose son Henry (Finn Scicluna-O’Prey) has a tendency to sleepwalk himself into very dangerous situations. Sarah believes she knows why and must convince Eric his help is desperately needed to contain the powerful presence bent on destroying her family.
At an hour and 39 minutes, this haunted tale is more a romanticized vision of a woman actively trying to exorcize her own ghosts. The army of servants and carpenters gives the film a vibrant feel, even if it’s a quiet moment at dinner, or the midnight hour when the bell tolls, “because it’s Midnight” says a butler.
There is a sense of lingering dread throughout Winchester, and one only real “jump scare.” The other scares, you know are coming, you just don’t know how they will present, and that adds to the fun. Winchester is a fun movie, watching Eric overcome his “science” to accept the reality of the House, watching Sarah become more frantic at the thought of everything she’s built destroyed, and of course, the destructive earthquake – which was very real in 1906.
At the theater, a fellow movie-goer asked me, “is the house really that big?” I visited Winchester Mystery House in 1996 on the last leg of my honeymoon and marveled at the 110 rooms we were allowed to explore. “Oh, it’s bigger,” I said. After the 1906 Earthquake, Sarah Winchester continued to build onto her house around the clock until her death in 1922, ending 38 years ofconstant construction and rebirth.
Winchester is Rated PG-13 for swears, gun violence, some seriously creepy shocks, amputee ghosts, a suicide, an earthquake, brief child endangerment, and Helen Mirren looking fabulous in black.