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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Toward the end of Winchester—the new haunted house movie starring Helen Mirren and Jason Clarke—a character has a moment when she says the words, “I am not afraid,” repeatedly.

My sentiments exactly.

Mirren and Clarke head a decent cast in what proves to be a movie without any real scares, personality or real reason to sit down and watch it. The acting is terrible; the editing is sloppy; and the special effects are third-rate. This level of failure is very surprising, considering it was directed by Michael and Peter Spierig, the brothers who put together the inventive science-fiction thriller Predestination.

Clarke plays Eric Price, a doctor addicted to drugs and alcohol. His wife died due to a self-inflicted gunshot wound via a Winchester rifle, a rifle from which he also took a bullet, although he survived. (The script alludes to him being dead for three minutes before being brought back to life, so he might be able to see dead people.)

Meanwhile, the members of “the board” at the Winchester firearms company want Eric to evaluate the mental health of company owner Sarah Winchester (Mirren), hoping that the disgraced doctor will basically take their bribe, declare Sarah unfit to run her company, and strip her of company control. Eric has nothing better to do, so he takes the gig and travels to the infamous real-life house—a cool-looking giant abode that makes an appearance in the film. Upon seeing the real haunted house onscreen, I was hoping for a haunted house spectacle like Kubrick’s The Shining, which featured the labyrinthine Overlook Hotel.

Instead, we get a ghost movie that trots out the same old tricks used in countless ghost movies before it. Ghosts suddenly appearing, accompanied by a loud soundtrack noise? Check. Ghosts appearing in a mirror after a user adjusts it? Check. Little possessed kids singing a well-known song in that oh-so-creepy-possessed-kid kind of way? Check.

The actual Winchester house, located in San Jose, has an impressive ghost story to go with it. The real Sarah Winchester, after inheriting the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, believed the house was inhabited by the spirits of those who fell victim to Winchester rifles. One would think that premise would make for a snappy movie, but instead, there’s just a bunch of nonsense involving Mirren’s Sarah nailing all the rooms shut and trying to avoid getting killed by her possessed, super-annoying grandson. There’s also the spectacle of Clarke doing some embarrassingly bad drunk/stoned-guy acting.

The special-effects ghosts are laughable—but even worse are the ghosts played by people wearing practical makeup. Price has a scene with his deceased wife in which she looks like somebody who tried to put her makeup on with the lights off—not a ghost. I know it would make the movie even more clichéd, but ghosts should be see through, right? When an actor or actress stands around in bad makeup in this film, it looks like somebody from the local junior high-level production of Jeepers, I Got Spooked by Ghosts in My Mom’s Basement crashed the film set.

There’s a ghost in this movie that poses as a servant on the Winchester staff. This got me thinking: Where did the ghost get his Winchester employee uniform to pull off his impersonation scheme? Is there a special costume warehouse in the afterlife where mischievous ghosts can go to rent them? When we die, are we empowered with massive tailoring abilities to go with our powers to pass through walls and shit? Or do ghosts looking to start trouble simply grab previously worn uniforms off the rack at Savers? Do they consult with Beetlejuice?

My mind was so bored, it started coming up with this kind of crap while I watched this thing. The movie is one long scene after another of Mirren and Clarke trying to make sense out of the mess. I suspect we’ll be talking about this one again in about 10 months, when we are compiling our year’s-worst lists.

Winchester is now playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

It was around Halloween seven years ago when I did a little happy dance in my head as I walked out of a movie theater.

I had just seen Saw 3D: The Final Chapter, the seventh and, as advertised, supposedly final film in the Saw franchise. Oh, deep down in my cinema-going heart, I didn’t really believe it would be the last one. I had been tricked before. (Fuck you, Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street!) But, you know, it did say The Final Chapter in the title, and this was back in the pre-Trump days, when I was a little more optimistic and had a bit more spring in my step.

I had hopes that I would never again hear Tobin Bell, as Jigsaw, droning on about “playing a game” and murdering people with elaborate schemes that would take something like $7 billion per death. (A lot of industrial labor and major planning, with perhaps a live production crew, would be required to pull off Jigsaw’s Rube Goldberg-style stunts.) After two or three years went by, I thought, hey, maybe greed won’t win the day—and perhaps Jigsaw’s cinematic life had actually come to an end.

Nah. The bastard lives on in Jigsaw, a film that pulls Tobin Bell out of mothballs and finds a way for his permanently scowling, droning party-pooper to start up the elaborate killings again. Hey, man … Lionsgate needs a hit, and nobody over there is concerned about quality or making a lick of sense. This film is living proof of that.

Things start in that oh-so-familiar Saw way, with a bunch of people trapped in a room and chained to contraptions that threaten to disembowel them. They are all bad people who must confess their crimes, or face the wrath of Jigsaw—and a rather stellar makeup department. Yes, this movie is idiotic, but the gore-masters do some fine yucky stuff. There’s a half-sawed-off head moment that was quite good. I hope the PA or intern who did the work on that one got an extra Snickers for the effort.

Yeah, Jigsaw died in one of the past movies. I don’t remember which one, and you couldn’t pay me enough to go back and watch them again to figure it out. I just know he died somewhere, and lived on in flashbacks. The writers have come up with yet another way to return the crotchety psycho codger to the big screen, because somebody at Lionsgate needs one of those saltwater swimming pools and a new bike.

I’d give you a plot synopsis, but, hey, what’s the point, right? It’d just be me running off a bunch of characters played by actors and actresses you don’t really know. I guess what I could do is describe a few of the killing contraptions that take people out in this thing. There’s a spinning blade thingamabob rigged to a motorcycle engine that makes little to no sense. There’s also a wire-rigging sniggle-dee-doo that chops a dude’s leg off, and somebody gets injected in the neck with acid. In a nod to the Harrison Ford thriller Witness, a couple almost dies by getting buried alive in a grain silo. (Oh man, I just referenced Harrison Ford’s Witness in a Saw review. That has to be against film criticism law. I’m sure there’s a fine pending.)

The movie is directed by Michael and Peter Spierig, whose best previous effort would be the mind-trippingly good Predestination. This makes me sad they wound up with this gig. Like, really sad. They get to work with Hellen Mirren on the cool-looking Winchester: The House that Ghosts Built next, so maybe redemption is on the way.

Now eight movies in, I’ve yet to see a Saw movie that I liked. Jigsaw is more of the same, and more of the lame. The most unique thing in this movie is Tobin Bell’s stylish soul patch. (I really did admire it … it’s a daring facial-hair gesture.) At least Cary Elwes doesn’t show up for this one. Although, now that I think about it, a scene with him comically overacting as he saws off yet another limb would’ve been far better than anything in this movie.

Jigsaw is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews