At this point in her career, Helen Mirren gets to dress like Marilyn Manson’s dresser doily and yell at the ghost of a confederate soldier any damn time she pleases. Honestly, the biggest problem with Winchester is that it is nowhere near trashy enough to be captivating. Mirren clearly had a hankering to gobble up some schlock and awe, the British term for which is “Tony Blair.” Instead, the Spierig Brothers wrote and directed a snoozy jump-scare festival so rote that they no longer get to have a cool, unified designation like The Duffer Brothers or The Wachowskis do. Michael and Peter Spierig are now Mi-Mi and Pee-Pee, until further notice.
Like a Nebraskan roller coaster, any horror movie with a PG-13 rating isn’t built in the right place and likely to be flat. Winchester infuses a surprisingly thematically rich real-life conceit with such varied scares as “Look behind you!” “No really, look behind you!” and “Gotcha! There was something behind you.” Mirren is the titular Winchester, Sarah, who inherited 51% of the rifle company in the early 1900s when her husband died. She was tortured by the idea her riches were spoils derived from the deaths of innocents, a poignant reflection so un-American they had to cast Helen effing Mirren.
In real-life, and in Mi-Mi and Pee-Pee’s self-congratulatory piffle, construction on Sarah’s mansion was never-ending. Rooms were perpetually torn down and built for the ghosts of gun violence victims. Here, a psychiatrist (Jason Clarke) hired by the Winchester company to wrest control away from Sarah due to her insanity finds himself at odds with his dead wife, a possessed child and the aforementioned confederate soldier, whose mannerisms and appearance are not not Jared Kushner-esque. The whole thing ends with a throwaway cliché that actually dismantles the one thing the film had going for it, sawing off its anti-gun message with a cock and pull of cock and bull.
Because of course they did, Mi-Mi and Pee-Pee got Helen Mirren in their B-movie and made it about Jason Clarke, who isn’t that guy you’re thinking of. You’re thinking of Joel Edgerton. No, now you’re thinking of Patrick Wilson. In the interest of not getting preposterously repetitive, Winchester is actively un-scary, wickedly lazy and bends the rules of space and time to cram at least 180 minutes of boring into 99 minutes.
The only briefly redemptive quality—beyond Mirren’s gleeful willingness to slum it in the genre—is Winchester’s semi-Get Out-ish use of legitimate, real-world, significant social horror. The United States has long been running at a moral deficit, especially when it comes to gun violence. If reanimated corpses and bodiless spirits were actually able to spur congress into action, we should all be building a grassroots Ouija board the size of Chicago. Had Mi-Mi and Pee-Pee gone all-in on this message, boldly declaring that the slave-built mansion that is America is damned to be cursed until we build a space to house the victims of our violent transgressions, Winchester would have still been boring. But it would have been meaningful. Instead, it’s a noisy bit of nothing, more gossamer than the thinnest of ghosts.
Grade = C-