Susan Granger’s review of “Winchester” (CBS Films)


Supposedly “inspired by actual events,” this Gothic ghost story revolves around widowed Sarah Lockwood Winchester (Helen Mirren), who inherited a vast fortune from her husband, William, whose family founded the fabled Winchester Repeating Arms in New Haven, Connecticut.

From 1864 until her death in 1922, Sarah supervised construction of an elaborate estate In San Jose, California, a project supposedly instigated by a New England seer to delay her own demise and, perhaps, calm the spirits of those killed by Winchester rifles.

Deeply superstitious, Sarah would disappear each night to her “séance” room where spirits would guide her in designing new spaces. Eventually, there were 161 rooms with circular staircases leading nowhere, doors leading to sheer drops and other architectural oddities.

Windows contained 13 panes of glass, chandeliers had 13 crystals, and 13 nails were used in securing wood. Despite her oddities, Sarah’s construction crew adored her; many were paid triple their ordinary salary to insure their absolute loyalty.

As part of a power struggle within Winchester, where she was a 50% shareholder, reclusive Sarah, clad in mourning black, agrees to submit to a psychiatric assessment done by laudanum-addicted Dr. Eric Price (Jason Clarke), who has been bribed to declare her mentally unfit.

Sketchily written and directed by Australian twin brothers Michael and Peter Spierig (“Jigsaw,” “Predestination”), it lacks tension and suspense, turning out to be more eerie than horrifying.

Curiously, Sarah Winchester’s true story is even more controversial, according to biographer Mary Jo Ignoffo (“Captive of the Labyrinth: Sarah L. Winchester: Heiress to the Rifle Fortune”).

While Sarah came from a long line of woodworkers and believed in spiritualists, there was never any ‘gun guilt.’  “Nobody felt guilty about guns at the turn of the 20th century,” Ignoffo maintains. “Everybody used them and needed them.”

“The fundamental lie is that the building of the house went on 24/7,” she continues. “Mrs. Winchester didn’t even live in the house for the last 15 years of her life.”

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Winchester” is a tedious 3, a misfire.