Movie Review: “Winchester”

If you’ve lived in the Bay Area, you’ll probably know about the Winchester Mystery House. Most people drive past it without a second glance and fail to recognize the historic importance it represents in America’s history. The owner of the house was the wife of William Winchester, who created the Winchester rifle. Winchester rifles helped settle the west, win the civil war, and destroyed countless lives. But when the child of William and Sarah Winchester died at the age of two, and then William died soon after, Sarah was left with the vast wealth accumulated from firearms that took the lives of many innocent people. She believed that there is a curse on her family for all the death her husband’s guns brought onto people. In “Winchester,” Sarah is played by Helen Mirren, who has worked on over 68 films in the past.

Purchasing land in San Jose, Sarah had a mansion built that grew, at its height, to seven stories tall. This freakish mansion was built to capture the evil spirits and help them “get over their deaths” so they could rest in peace. But the Winchester lawyers sought to have Sarah branded crazy so they could reapportion the inheritance.

The tables turned when Sarah found a prominent doctor that was himself a victim to a Winchester bullet, and legally dead for three minutes. Anxious to relieve the early career medical debts he had accrued, he agreed to live in the mansion and do a thorough investigation of Sarah’s well-being.

Arriving as he does under the influence of a Laudanum addiction, which is essentially an opium cocktail, he too begins to witness creatures and monsters in the night. A possessed boy attempts suicide, but the doctor is barely able to catch him. For a while, we can’t tell if Sarah is crazy and the doctor is sane or the other way around. At this point in the movie, there are repetitive jump scares, but a slowly progressing plot. Soon, however, the doctor discovers that Sarah goes into trances at midnight and designs rooms to help rehabilitate angry zombies. They are nailed shut with 13 nails, and the undead are locked in until they rehabilitate. The worst of these rooms is the Garden Room which waits for us through the movie as a horrifying specter that we will have to inevitably confront.

Things grow worse on April 17, 1906, when Sarah is almost killed by one of her own relatives while he is possessed by spirits. The next day was the day of the fabled San Francisco Earthquake. In real life, the Winchester mansion collapsed under the weight of heavy building materials and was reduced from seven to four floors. However, in the movie, the shaking cracks open every door and releases all of the trapped spirits to maraud and terrorize the family. When the doctor retreats to the Garden Room, he is surrounded by horrifying demons.

The film was scary at times, but the plot tended to be confusing. The majority of the scares were jump scares of extremely demented looking figures, but it soon became repetitive. The film, though entertaining, did not seem to live up to the quality of the actors and actresses working on it. Helen Mirren did a great job of bringing the legendary and spooky story behind the Winchester mystery house to light. The Winchester mystery house is thought to be one of the most haunted buildings in all of North America, and is virtually in our backyard. Though it may not be the most accurate representation of the historical background of the mansion, you truly owe yourself the thrill of this cinematic adventure.

B+