Helen Mirren Is Cursed With Spirits and a Poor Script in ‘Winchester’

The non-fiction history behind the infamous Winchester mansion is quite interesting. Standing seven stories tall, the impressive estate constructed by Sarah Winchester, heiress to the Winchester Rifle fortune, ordered 24-hour construction to take place at the house. Winchester added constant additions and modifications to the home from 1906 until her death in 1922. She proclaimed that the never-ending construction was to protect herself against all the vengeful spirits that died in the grips of a Winchester Rifle. With such a unique and intriguing true story to build off of, the motion picture adaptation, “Winchester” largely misfires.

Playing the batty titular character of Sarah Winchester is Academy Award-winner, Helen Mirren. She is deeply tormented by the spirits that pop-up in various jump-scare moments throughout the endless mansion. It is unclear how this B-movie script attracted such A-list talent. Sarah’s persistence to continually add to the macabre home is fueled by a message she once received by a psychic medium. But to those surrounding her, the crazy ghost stories lead to a question of her sanity.

Enter Doctor Eric Price (an unenthused Jason Clarke), who is hired by the Winchester estate to evaluate Sarah’s mental stability. Cursed with demons of his own, including his guilt over the death of his wife and drug addiction, Dr. Price is hardly suitable for the job. As soon as he enters the infamous property, things start to go bump in the night, and he realizes that Sarah might not be as delusional as others think.

Writing and directing duo, Michael and Peter Spierig (“Daybreakers” and “Jigsaw”) succeed much greater in the latter title. The brothers were brought in to rewrite the script, originally penned by Tom Vaughan, but it is littered with supernatural clichés that have mainly been done better in other haunted house films. They do, however, manage to frame the house in eye-catching visuals from time to time. Using the camera to their advantage, in order to uniquely capture the oddities that the architecture presents.

The best element of the film is finely crafted production design, which sharply emulates the unique structure of the actual San Jose, California mansion. Containing hundreds of rooms, the building is filled with staircases that lead to ceilings, doors that open to three-story drops, windows that serve as passageways, and skylights in place of floors. Decked out with fine foreign imports and furnishings, the house is more like a maze. Recreated for the Australian based production, the most interesting character of the film is not a particular individual, but it is the house itself. Well, at least the interior. The exterior is poorly portrayed with off-par CGI.

When a film has an Academy Award-winner in the lead, and the most exciting element is the production design, the bar set for the picture is significantly lowered. Standing as the only new wide-release this Super Bowl weekend, the film should have no problem nabbing the top spot at the box office. But it will be quickly forgotten. Produced and distributed by Lionsgate and CBS Films, the film received no preview screenings. After seeing the final product, it’s no surprise as to why. With such fascinating and factual source material, it is a shame that “Winchester” merely amounts to a silly, shallow spook show.

Winchester opens Feb. 2 in theaters nationwide.