People Helen Mirren

Helen Mirren plays Sarah Winchester, the wealthy widow of the gun manufacturer. Winchester believes the spirits of those who died on the wrong end of a Winchester firearm are haunting her.

This is, by most accounts, going to be a good year for horror movies.

Coming down the pike are a “Purge” prequel, a Steven Soderbergh asylum thriller called “Unsane,” a Jason Statham prehistoric shark movie called “Meg” and, best of all, the demonic domestic drama “Hereditary,” which, according to the unanimously positive reviews it’s getting, is this generation’s “Exorcist.”

All of this is to say that horror fans shouldn’t be too bummed that “Winchester” — a Helen Mirren haunted house movie being dumped on Super Bowl weekend — is such a musty mediocrity.

Fear not. There’s a lot of great stuff on the way. But first … “Winchester.”

The 1906-set film stars Mirren as Sarah Winchester, the extremely wealthy widow of the famous gun manufacturer. Her husband left her with a $20 million inheritance (about $500 million in today’s money) and controlling interest in the company. But her riches have come at great cost.

Winchester believes she’s cursed and that all the spirits of those who died on the wrong end of a Winchester firearm have come to haunt her.

To keep her ghosts under control, Winchester keeps adding to her San Jose, California, estate, which has become an M.C. Escher painting come to life: hundreds of rooms, doors that lead to two-story falls, staircases that lead nowhere.

Note on the history: So far, so true. Ish. She reportedly really did believe she was cursed, and in response built a big, bizarre house that is now a tourist attraction.

The company’s board thinks the widow Winchester has gone mad and wishes to seize her control of the business. They enlist a laudanum-addicted skeptic named Eric Price (Jason Clarke) to visit the estate and see whether the weird woman is mentally ill.

In addition to the small army of servants and builders (and ghosts) on the grounds, Winchester lives with her niece (played by Sarah Snook) and her niece’s creepy and susceptible-to-possession young son.

As Eric investigates Winchester’s mental state, he likewise explores her house, snooping around the forbidden rooms after everyone’s gone to bed.

And of course there are cracks and creaks and jump-scares galore. Things of the night go bump. Gnarly phantoms pop into the reflections of old mirrors. It’s standard, old-fashioned haunted house stuff handled with enough competence but not an ounce of fresh invention.

The Spierig brothers, who wrote and directed “Winchester,” are a cut above the usual horror hacks. They also made the much-better Ethan Hawke vampire movie “Daybreakers.”

And they at the very least give their new film a distinct setting and touch of elegance, a noble if futile effort to distract you from the cheapness of the film’s jolts and the dullness of its exposition.

Likewise, Clarke, Snook and especially Mirren do what they can to keep the material afloat. But the film is just too empty of high style or original ideas to be worth anyone’s time or attention.

It’s not a truly bad film. I can get behind a truly bad film. (I’m eagerly anticipating that Jason Statham shark movie, as one example.)

“Winchester” is worse than bad. It’s just deadly boring.

This complete guide of local music, movies, dining and entertainment will have you weekend ready

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Commenting is limited to Omaha World-Herald subscribers. To sign up, click here.

If you're already a subscriber and need to activate your access or log in, click here.

Load comments

You must be a full digital subscriber to read this article You must be a digital subscriber to view this article.