WINCHESTER loads a what-if? scenario on top of an already strange real life place and character, then misfires suggesting their weirdness had some otherworldly forces creeping in the hallways of imagination. Like some of your relatives.

San Jose, California, 1906. Sarah Winchester (Helen Mirren), heiress to a vast fortune from the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, is creative but crackers: her paranoia manifests in endless construction of a house with myriad architectural oddities. She’s convinced she and her residence are haunted by the spirits of people killed by rifles her late husbands company sold.  Stockholders lawyers, convinced she’s several bullets short of a clip, hire a doctor to observe her and determine whether she’s sane enough to keep share control of the firm. The affable doctor has his own quirks: he’s into a laudanum habit, and guilt-wracked over the death of his wife. His findings about Mrs. Winchester’s ability to relate to terra firma collide with the jarring intrusion from Mother Nature. *

Dame Helen,72, is diction & glare able as ever, even with the daffy material offered in this 2018 jump-scare exercise. The fictional physician is nicely played by Jason Clarke, and Sarah Snook shows some subtle flair as Winchester’s niece and live-in secretary. Directed with four feet on the obvious pedal by The Spierig Brothers (Peter & Michael), who filmed most of it in Australia, their art direction crew and CGI gang replicating the house that still stands as a tourist attraction in San Jose. Some pickup shots were done there. The twin bros co-wrote the silly paste-by-numbers script with Tom Vaughan.

Mildly amusing, thanks mostly to the actors, but the excess of cheap jolts wears thin quickly, secondary characters are mostly poorly conceived and presented, and the finale inclusion of the San Francisco Earthquake is a cheat, as the audience is led to believe the destructive commotion is somehow related to the paranormal plotline (a postscript lets the history-challenged know that the quake was a real, unrelated event). Bogus.

Aiming at flaws in its wacky construction, universally negative reviews fired shots at it, but the curious filed in to bullseye a gross of $46,000,000, a lucky 13 times the $3,500,000 production cost. Almost as profitable as gun sales.

With Eamon Farren, Finn Scicluna-O’Prey, Laura Brent, Bruce Spence, Angus Sampson, Tyler Coppen. 99 minutes.

 * Sarah Winchester had architects and laborers toil on the mansion from 1884 until her death in 1922.

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