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Film review: 'Winchester'


The story of Sarah Winchester, infamous heiress to the Winchester Repeating Arms company fortune, is a fascinating one: growing despondent after the death of her infant daughter and then her husband, Sarah (played here by Helen Mirren) moved to San Jose in the late 1800s. There, she purchased a modest property, turning it into a massive seven-story mansion which she continued to obsessively build and expand until the day she died.

Without an architect to oversee the plans, construction of the house was so fast that the result was a labyrinthine collection of rooms on top of rooms, with doors and stairways that often lead nowhere. The construction was so haphazard and strange that rumors began to spread of Sarah's belief that her family was haunted by the souls killed by Winchester firearms, and only by continuously building these spirits a place to live could she appease them.

It's from this incredible setup that "Winchester" takes its inspiration, beginning as a skeptical psychiatrist (Jason Clarke) is sent at the behest of the Winchester estate to evaluate Sarah's state of mind. Instead, he finds himself drawn into her unsettling world.

Horror has always been a way for us to grapple with real-life fears through a supernatural lens, and melding the ghostly elements of this story to the country's legacy of violence and addiction to guns could have yielded some rich material. But the makers of the film -- brothers Michael and Peter Spierig -- squander all that potential with bland and clumsy execution, relying on endless exposition punctuated by predictable jump scares. Not even the esteemed Helen Mirren can help, and as a result, "Winchester" seems destined to go down as one of the most disappointing films this year.