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Movie Night – ‘Winchester’ rooted in real history

By Bradley Griffith

Other than “Mission Impossible: Fallout,” the pickings are pretty slim at the theater right now.  So, you may want to turn your attention to home rentals. The trailers for “Winchester” made it look mildly interesting, though maybe not as frightening as the filmmakers hoped, which turned out to be an accurate assessment of the movie.

Sarah Winchester (Helen Mirren) is the widow of William Winchester. William was the founder and owner of Winchester Repeating Arms Company, the company that revolutionized the firearms industry in the late 1800s with its repeating action rifle. After his death, Sarah inherited his fortune and his majority share of stock in the company.

In the year 1906, Dr. Eric Price (Jason Clarke) is hired by the Board of Directors of the Winchester Company to perform a mental assessment of Sarah Winchester. The Board wants to know if Ms. Winchester is mentally competent to make decisions for the company as the majority shareholder. In other words, they want to divest her of any decision-making ability with regard to the company.

Sarah believes that she and the Winchester family are cursed. She believes that the ghosts of people killed by Winchester rifles haunt her, seeking vengeance, peace, or both. Sarah built a sprawling mansion in San Jose, California, that she believes is haunted by these ghosts. The mansion is in a never-ending state of construction. Sarah insists that additional rooms be built 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

When Dr. Price arrives at the mansion he learns the reasoning behind the constant construction. Sarah believes that she can help the spirits that haunt her find peace. The spirits who remain too angry and upset to find peace are kept in rooms in the home. These rooms are kept locked with wooden bars over their doors with 13 nails holding the bars in place. Sarah believes these thirteen nails will keep the spirits locked in their rooms until they are ready to find peace. As if that wasn’t enough for him to deal with, Dr. Price has his own demons to wrestle with since the death of his wife.

“Winchester” is one of the more unusual new movies available for home rental right now. It’s not unusual because it is supposed to be a horror movie or due to any special technique in filming the movie. It’s unusual because much of it is rooted in real history. In fact, the Winchester house is still standing in San Jose, California. It is allegedly a haunted house, but one that has its own website and charges fees for tours.

The history of the house drew my interest to the movie. The Winchester house plays such a large part in the movie that it could be considered the main character. In addition to the locked rooms, there are stairways that lead to nowhere and rooms that have no door, among other eccentricities. More than anything else about the movie, the house itself is intriguing. It’s amazing that this house actually exists and is now open to the public.

The main problem with the movie is that, even though the movie is about a curse and features many ghosts and despite the fact that the filmmakers wanted the movie to be scary, it was not frightening in the slightest. In fact, the movie would be better categorized as a historical thriller than a horror movie. If you are looking for a good movie to turn out all the lights and at least be creeped out a little, choose another movie.

There were no great acting performances in “Winchester.” Helen Mirren has seemingly become more sought after as she aged, a rare accomplishment in Hollywood. But playing Sarah Winchester is not her finest hour, likely because of the material she was given. The production of the movie seemed inexpensive, as if they cut costs at every corner to the detriment of the movie.

“Winchester” falls into the mediocre category, where most movies reside. Not great, but not awful either.

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Grade: C+

Rated PG-13 for violence, disturbing images, drug content, some sexual material, and thematic elements.