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Winchester’s surprising social commentary 

In between scares, an anti-gun message.

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Amongst many of Winchester's curiosities: It's based on the true story of Sarah Winchester, who did inherit her husband's large gun fortune, did believe she was being haunted by the souls of every person killed by a Winchester rifle, did spend 38 years of non-stop construction on her estate, trying to build a resting home for those souls. It's an Australian production, directed by Germans, set in America, starring a Brit. Its opening weekend audience was comprised of 64 percent women over 25, not the usual crowd for a horror movie. But then, this isn't a usual horror movie.

Helen Mirren is the titular Winchester, swanning around in a black veil, quiet and haunted. Jason Clarke, the excellent Australian actor from Zero Dark Thirty and the series Brotherhood, is Eric Price—the doctor assigned by Winchester's board of directors to declare her insane so they can access her fortune. There's a catch: Price was himself shot by a Winchester, pronounced dead for three minutes. He lives, as she does, in both worlds.

Winchester is spooky, not gross; The Others, not Jigsaw, the Spierig brothers' previous film. The scares are suddenly appearing apparitions, possessed kids, shaking structures. Mirren could've camped it up but instead plays Winchester as a woman of great empathy and great shame at her name's legacy.

It's no Get Out, but it's rare a movie in this genre has anything of note to say, let alone an anti-violence message from 1906. It doesn't stick with you, but Winchester is curiously successful in the moment.

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Vol 27, No 38
February 13, 2020

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