Review / ‘Winchester’ (M) **

NO, this Australian-made film by brothers Michael and Peter Spierig isn’t about the 1989 murder of a senior ACT police officer, nor about a cathedral city in Hampshire, nor even about Anthony Mann’s cracking  1950 western that ended with a rifle duel between villain Waco Dean (Dan Duryea) armed with any old rifle and good guy Lin McAdam (James Stewart) using a 1873 model Winchester rifle. Guess who won!

This one’s about an obsession of the major shareholder in the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, maker of the “Gun That Won The West”. In 1906, Mrs Sarah Winchester (Helen Mirren) summons Dr Eric Price (Jason Clarke) to the rambling house some 80 kilometres east of San Francisco that she is having built as a home for the ghosts of all those folk whose lives ended when somebody shot them with a Winchester rifle.

Sarah believes that those ghosts deserve something more comfortable than floating aimlessly about in the ether. She wants to expiate the shame, guilt, embarrassment, whatever, that comes from getting very rich from making and selling the implement that led to their deaths. And she’s scared that a cohort from among all those ghosts wants to get even with her.

“Winchester” is the fifth feature film created by the German-born Spierig brothers and the fourth that they have co-written. It has a good cast, including Sarah Snook as Sarah’s niece. But its execution is clunky, its suspense values are not really scary and its practice of foretelling them with a musical signature is less than smart. And while subtitles proclaim a measure of authenticity, including a closing reference to the massive San Francisco earthquake of later the same year, it’s very hard to accept its ghostly underlying premise.

At Capitol 6, Hoyts and Dendy

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