Firing blanks

No mystery, no scares in Winchester ghost story

Starring Helen Mirren and Jason Clarke. Directed by Michael and Peter Spierig. Cinemark 14, Feather River Cinemas, Paradise Cinema 7. Rated PG-13.
Rated 1.0

Toward the end of Winchester, the new haunted house movie starring Helen Mirren and Jason Clarke, a character has a moment in which she repeats the words, “I am not afraid.”

My sentiments exactly.

Mirren and Clarke head a decent cast in what proves to be a ghost movie void of any real scares, personality, or particular reason to sit and watch it. The acting is terrible, the editing is sloppy and the special effects are third-rate. It’s all very surprising considering it was written and directed by Michael and Peter Spierig, the brothers who put together the inventive sci-fi thriller Predestination.

Clarke plays Eric Price, a doctor addicted to drugs and alcohol. His wife died due to a self-inflicted gunshot wound via a Winchester rifle, a rifle he also took a bullet from but survived (the script alludes to the notion that he was dead for three minutes before being brought back to life, so he might be able to see dead people). Members of “the board” at the Winchester Repeating Arms Company hire Eric to evaluate the mental health of company owner Sarah Winchester (Mirren), hoping that the disgraced doctor will take their bribe and declare the widow unfit to run her company so they can strip her of control.

Eric takes the gig and travels to the infamous house, the admittedly cool-looking, giant abode in San Jose that makes an actual appearance in the film.

The real Sarah Winchester and her mysterious house have an impressive ghost story behind them, one that could make for a snappy movie. But this one is just a bunch of nonsense involving Mirren’s Sarah nailing all the rooms shut and trying to avoid being killed by her possessed (and super annoying) grandson. There’s also the spectacle of Clarke’s embarrassingly bad drunk/stoned acting.

Winchester is a ghost movie that trots out the same old tricks from countless ghost movies before it. Ghosts suddenly appearing accompanied by loud soundtrack sting? Check. Ghosts appearing in a mirror after its user adjusts it? Check. Little possessed kids singing a well-known song in that oh-so-creepy possessed-kid kind of way? Check.

And the special-effect ghosts are laughable. Dr. Price has a scene with his deceased wife where she looks more like somebody who tried to put her makeup on with the lights off rather than a ghost.

The film is one long scene after another of Mirren and Clarke trying to make sense out of the mess. I suspect we’ll be talking about this one again in about 10 months when compiling the year’s worst lists.