(US/Australia - 2018)
Directed by The Spierig Brothers. Written by Tom Vaughan and The Spierig Brothers. Cast: Helen Mirren, Jason Clarke, Sarah Snook, Angus Sampson, Eamon Farren, Bruce Spence, Finn Scicluna-O'Prey, Tyler Coppin, Laura Brent, Alice Chaston. (PG-13, 99 mins)
Located in San Jose, CA and now a popular tourist attraction, the Winchester Mystery House is an ideal setting for a haunted house horror movie. It was purchased in 1884 by Sarah Winchester, the heiress to the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, in which she inherited a 50% stake upon the death of her husband William Wirt Winchester in 1881. Legend has it that the widow Winchester was insane, believing that she was forever cursed by the tortured spirits of those killed by the rifles and firearms manufactured by her late husband's company. She spent the rest of her life adding rooms and levels to the house, turning it into a memorial for those victims, and ordering more construction with news of every life ended by a Winchester product. The two-story home eventually became a maze-like seven stories by the time construction finally ceased upon Mrs. Winchester's death in 1922. It's filled with endless hallways, hidden rooms, secret passages, and stairways that lead nowhere. Building was said to have gone on non-stop, 24/7 for the 38 years between Mrs. Winchester's purchase of the house until her death. While construction did go on for 38 years, often at all hours of the day and night, historians now suggest that she sent the workers away for weeks or months at a time and the work wasn't quite literally non-stop from 1884 to 1922.
PREDESTINATION, and last year's SAW reboot JIGSAW, WINCHESTER benefits from some terrific production and set design, utilizing a few San Jose exteriors but largely recreating large portions of the Winchester house on sets in Australia. They also secured a ringer with the legendary Helen Mirren as Sarah Winchester, instantly giving an incalculable amount of class and credibility to a mostly rote, predictable, and by-the-numbers Blumhouse-era horror programmer that requires very little strain or effort on her part. In the 1960s, this sort of project would be Mirren's foray into the post-WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? "horror hag" subgenre that carved a lucrative niche for Hollywood greats like Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, and Olivia de Havilland after they hit their 50s and the studios had little else to offer them. In April 1906, Mrs. Winchester is being evaluated by visiting Dr. Eric Price (Jason Clarke), a widower and hard-drinking laudanum addict hired by the Winchester board of directors in the hopes that he'll declare her insane and allow them to seize complete control of the company. Mrs. Winchester lives with her niece Marion Marriott (PREDESTINATION's Sarah Snook), a young widow with a seven-year-old son, Henry (Finn Scicluna-O'Prey, a front-runner for 2018's Best Newcomer Name), who's still troubled by his father's death and prone to putting a potato sack on his head and sleepwalking through the labyrinthine house.