Bil’s rating (out of 5): B. Australia/USA, 2018. Blacklab Entertainment, Imagination Design Works. Screenplay by Tom Vaughan, Michael Spierig, Peter Spierig. Cinematography by Ben Nott. Produced by Tim McGahan, Brett Tomberlin. Music by Peter Spierig. Production Design by Matthew Putland. Costume Design by Wendy Cork. Film Editing by Matt Villa.
A psychiatrist whose career has seen better days (Jason Clarke) is asked by a high-ranking member of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company to visit the home of Sarah Winchester (Helen Mirren), daughter-in-law of the company’s founder and now a majority shareholder, and assess her sanity. Mrs. Winchester has been spending her money on non-stop renovations for her increasingly large mansion and, because of the very little sense that most of its architecture makes (with windows and doors built into floors or multiple levels that defy logic), the company’s directors believe that she has lost her marbles; the woman in question has responded with sanguine agreement to the doctor’s investigation and welcomes him to come and stay with her and her niece (Sarah Snook doing a flimsy American accent), whose little boy has just started doing some very strange sleepwalking. The doctor sees spooky things from his first night in the house but believes it to be the effect of the laudanum he is addicted to; after catching the grand lady doing some drawings while in a trance-like stake, he learns that the house is haunted by the ghosts of people who have died at the hands of her company’s weapons, and she builds rooms for their souls to find peace. A recently arrived ghoul is a very troubled spirit who is out for vengeance on the entire Winchester clan, threatening genuine harm upon the inhabitants of the house and requiring them all to put their backs into getting rid of him. Inspired, very loosely, on the legends surrounding the actual home currently located in San Jose, California, this Australian film production (that does almost as bad a job of trying to make Oz look like America as Mel Gibson did) does have a few genuinely scary moments but, outside of them, is impossible to enjoy thanks to graceless direction and unimaginative story telling. More dignified research into Sarah Winchester’s biography has revealed that the real reason behind her projects was that she was performing post-modern experiments in expanding the possibilities of physical architecture, she wasn’t the superstitious woman she is presented as here; even if you wish to forgive this dramatic licence and ignore its possible sexist tones, the film could at least get points for having some manner of dramatic strength or character detail.