Rated PG-13, 99 minutes
There's usually a reason films aren't screened in advance, and it's usually not a good one, either. The lame new period horror drama "Winchester" is dead on arrival, even with the presence of an esteemed Oscar-winner. Inspired by real events, the lackluster film is a crashing bore, likely to induce more yawns than chills.
After the sudden death of her family, firearms heiress Sarah Winchester (Oscar-winner Helen Mirren, who can't save the film) becomes convinced that she's haunted by the souls of those killed by guns. Winchester then decides to build an enormous mansion that's designed to keep the evil spirits at bay. When skeptical psychiatrist Eric Price (Jason Clarke) visits the estate to evaluate her state of mind, he soon discovers that her obsession may not be so far-fetched after all.
"Winchester" is a derivative, excessively dull haunted house film loosely based on actual events, co-directed by the Spierig brothers, Peter and Michael (the recent "Jigsaw" as well as the well-received 2014 cult hit "Predestination"), and is co-written by the Spierig's along with Tom Vaughan. Part period piece and part haunted house flick, not a bit of it is scary; even the presence of a superb character actress in Mirren can't inspire some chillier moments.
The chief problem among many is that it's filled with a load of exposition and takes way, way too much time to get going, in that not much really happens until the last act. Until then, it's dreadfully and painfully slow, peppered with a few minor jumps here and there. Second, it's not all that original. Haunted houses have been in everything from "Psycho" to "The Amityville Horror," and the vast majority of those films are filled with much greater tension and fright than anything that appears here.
There's a real story here too, and that story is much creepier than the tedious story executed here. Clarke's junkie doctor is a bland presence, as is Sarah Snook, who's been in most of the Spierig's films and doesn't really register much here. Angus Sampson has a few good moments as a demon-possessed child, but little happens with his character. Mirren does her best as Sarah Winchester, the heir to the gun fortune who really built the house because the dead spirits of those killed by Winchester guns told her to.
The real mansion, the Winchester Mystery House, is a cultural landmark and tourist attraction in California today and also appears in exterior shots of the film. The legend behind the house and Ms. Winchester is far more chilling than this unoriginal, vacuous and dull "Winchester." You're better off reading up on that story that suffering through this painfully slow horror film.