Score: 2 ** stars out of 4 ****
If you checked your favorite newspaper or online outlet last week and didn’t see any reviews for “Winchester” there’s a reason.
Horror movies (especially those released in the wasteland of mid-winter) are often not previewed for the press. The common studio thinking is that horror is a “critic-proof” genre; dedicated fans don’t care what critics think and people who don’t like horror in the first place won’t go no matter how much praise a critic might heap upon it. This actually makes good business sense. Don’t show a movie for free in advance if it yields no additional bank.
This stringent marketing position changes completely when a non-fictional supporting character in the film is played by Oscar-winner Helen Mirren, one of the most admired and respected of all living actresses.
Opening a movie on Super Bowl weekend can use all the help it can get, but after seeing it on Friday I can understand why the struggling CBS Films decided not to preview it. This is not because it’s bad (it’s subpar but not horrible) — urban and coastal horror fans should love it — but more because it plays loosy-goosey with the facts and could rub Middle-American, red-state horror patrons the wrong way.
Opening in 1906 — a full 27 years after the death of her husband William — the son of the founder of the Winchester Repeating Rifle Company — Sarah Winchester (Mirren) is already far into the creation of an ostentatious mansion in San Jose. The structure had no formal blueprint, but was rather an ongoing project that would continue unfinished until her death in 1922. Room after room, along with maze-like hallways, corridors, doors, and stairways leading nowhere, were tacked-on following Sarah’s “visions.”
According to the film, a Winchester board member hired Dr. Eric Price (Jason Clarke) to evaluate Sarah’s mental state.
A psychiatrist deeply in debt and highly addicted to Laudanum (a liquid opioid sharing many of the same qualities of Absinth), Price takes the gig mostly for the money. The label on the bottle Price draws from with an eye dropper includes the word “poison” and in the film “Interview with the Vampire,” Laudanum was used as part of an attempt to murder the character Lestat. However you wish to view Laudanum, it makes Price, if not an unreliable lead, one whose visions and later medical conclusions regarding Sarah become tainted because of his use of a mind altering chemical.
The main thrust of the film’s narrative is the mission of Sarah who — at the behest or advice of a [pick your verbiage] psychic, clairvoyant, oracle, soothsayer, medium, or diviner — is to absolve or cleanse herself of the deaths of people killed by bullets shot from Winchester firearms.
This begs a few questions.
Did Sarah know her future husband and father-in-law manufactured guns before she married William? If so and if so troubled by the moral fallout, why did she marry into the family in the first place? If after the deaths of these two men and feeling bad by the means of the family riches why didn’t she just give it all away to charity and walk away instead of spending untold millions on a misguided architectural project?
Sarah built a monstrosity that would rival that of William Randolph Hearst’s San Simeon and his fictional title character’s “Xanadu” in “Citizen Kane.” According to this “inspired by” movie (one notch below “based on” on the believability scale), much of the content here is derived from rumor, conjecture, quasi-mythology/urban legend or whole cloth. It is a major step backwards for Australian writer/director brothers Michael and Peter Spierig, whose superb sci-fi “Predestination” was my favorite movie of 2015.
The Winchester House still exists and — in addition to being referred to as the ultimate haunted house — is listed in the “National Register of Historical Places.” Why it is included on this otherwise prestigious list is up for debate; it’s certainly not for its architectural attributes.
What isn’t up for debate is Sarah’s and the filmmaker’s belief that guns are very bad.
They think guns kill people but so do cars, alcohol, flatware, barbeque mishaps, writing implements, garden tools, cleaning products, and fireworks when handled incorrectly or by people with malice of forethought. Anything is a possible weapon; guns just happen to be the easiest to demonize by the uninformed left.
In two fantasy sequences Price sees the ghosts of many Winchester “victims.” While some are non-descript and generic, other characters are adorned as criminals, Confederate soldiers, and Native Americans in full battle regalia — all who were at some point enemies of the United States.
What the left fails to recognize here is that the majority of law-abiding citizens who own guns are highly responsible, law-abiding people. The guns in their possession were acquired by legal means and used almost exclusively to possibly defend themselves against people who likely acquired theirs illegally.
By the end of the film, the chemically-influenced Price is in agreement with a woman who believes inanimate objects, not people, are to blame. Both of them are wrong in separate yet clearly distinct ways. He’s high as a kite and she’s affixed herself to misplaced liberal guilt. Each is equally toxic and misguided.
Originally from Washington, D.C., Michael Clark has written for over 30 local and national media outlets and is currently the only newspaper-based film critic providing original content in the Atlanta Top 10 media marketplace and he recently co-founded the Atlanta Film Critics Circle. Over the last two decades, Mr. Clark has written over 3,500 movie reviews and film related articles for the Gwinnett Daily Post and is one of the scant few conservative-minded U.S. critics. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
© 2021 Newsmax. All rights reserved.