To say that this movie is "inspired by actual events" - as the opening caption claims - is, of course, something of a stretch. It takes the Winchester Repeating Arms Company (makers of the Winchester Rifle and other arms) and the lifestory of Sarah Winchester, who inherited the company upon the death of her husband, and builds a tall tale of supernatural events revolving around the house that Sarah really did build in California - a huge mansion full of winding staircases and confusing hallways. I always take the claim "inspired by actual events" with a huge grain of salt. And when what you're watching is a ghost story, the grain of salt is even larger. The so-called "Winchester Mystery House" is real, and it was built by Sarah Winchester, and it is huge and confusing. It's a tourist attraction, open to the public (it might be interesting to visit) and of course there are stories of it being haunted - all the better to pull the toursists in to see it. Many of the claims about Sarah and the house (and even its history) are believed to have been invented by its post-Winchester owners. For what purpose?Probably to make a buck off tourists wanting to visit a haunted house!
In the movie, Sarah believes the Winchester family is cursed by their involvement in the arms manufacturing business, and the cast of characters is a collection of people who have all experienced some sort of trauma in their lives around the deaths of loved ones - deaths generally associated in some way with a Winchester rifle. And so, the supernatural element of the story has it that the spirits of those killed by Winchesters come to this house, where Sarah tries to lock them away until they can find peace. Helen Mirren was in the lead role as Sarah, and I thought she was good in the part (although it's a bit baffling why such a high profile and well regarded actor would take on a role in such a weak movie), with Jason Clarke playing a doctor called in by the Winchester Repeating Arms Company to determine whether Sarah was sane enough to remain in control of the company. Again, Clarke was all right in the role, and Dr. Price had his own demons to deal with. The movie offers the standard kind of "jumps" that you expect to find in a ghost story, but to be perfectly honest it fails to ever be truly frightening and in the end I'm not sure (I'm truly not sure) that anything in the story was ever really resolved.
If anything, the movie seems to be a political statement as much or more than a horror movie or ghost story. It's an Australian production (it likely couldn't have been made in the USA because the very powerful NRA would have immediately moved to try to stop it) but it seems tailor made to fit into some of the political debates in the United States around gun control. It makes the point of how many people die through the use of guns, and it seems to be almost pleading for arms manufacturers (represented by those characters who in the movie control the Winchester Repeating Arms Company) to be stricken with guilt over what their product facilitates. It may be a valid point, and it's certainly a valid political debate with credible people on both sides of the gun control issue, but the political agenda of the movie became clear pretty early on and seemed a bit too heavy handed to allow this movie to really be enjoyed.
There have been far better ghost stories produced. (3/10)
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