The Winchester Mystery House, as it’s known, is a sprawling Victorian mansion that stretches over six acres in San Jose, California, though its size is far from its most interesting characteristic. It’s full of staircases that lead to nowhere, doors that open to precipitous drops, and windows that peer into other rooms—all built in—legend has it—an attempt to foil the ghosts that the home’s architect and owner, Sarah Winchester, believed to be stalking her.
I have no idea why it’s taken so long to create a feature film about this place and its even more fascinating matriarch, whose enormous fortune—and the source of her life’s troubles—came courtesy of her husband, the creator of the Winchester rifle. The guns proved to be sufficiently effective killing machines that they were used in every war from the Mexican American War through World War II, netting the Winchesters a staggering fortune. But after the death of her husband, Sarah became convinced that the spirits of those killed by the rifle’s bullets were out to get her, prompting her to embark on a endless construction project that lasted until her death.
All of which is to say that a new trailer for Winchester, starring Dame Helen Mirren as Sarah, promises to be spooky, if not slightly over the top. The story of the Winchesters and the house their fortune spawned provides fertile ground for captivating storytelling, and Mirren will undoubtedly shine as always. But I for one would rather see a subtle thriller examining the unspooling of Sarah’s evidently unwell—and perhaps guilty?—mind. What we seem to have here is a heavy-handed ghost story that relies on slamming doors, sudden apparitions and, most hackneyed of all, pale, singing children.
“She was a fascinating woman,” Mirren told the San Jose Mercury News earlier this year. “People say she was crazy. I don’t think she was crazy at all, I think she was troubled, and I think she was like an artist. She wished to live on her own terms. The house is her work of art.”
That’s the spirit (no pun intended). Please let this movie not suck.