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A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Winchester is a semi-biographical thriller about Sarah Winchester (Helen Mirren), who inherited her husband's highly profitable rifle company and then built the famous Mystery House in San Jose, California, possibly as a means of dealing with the ghosts of those who'd been killed by Winchester guns. Unsurprisingly, there's some gun violence, including a child who's possessed by a spirit shooting at a woman. You'll also see dead bodies and a blood spatter, and there are several jump scares, ghosts, and other scary stuff. One character is possibly abusing the drug laudanum, as well as alcohol, although he stops halfway through the movie, with few ill effects. The same character is shown with three women who may be prostitutes; there are subtle allusions to payment. One woman's naked back is glimpsed, and the man kisses all three of them. Language isn't really an issue, but there's one use of "bitch" and a use of "oh my God."
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
In WINCHESTER, it's 1906, and rifle heiress Sarah Winchester (Helen Mirren) lives with her niece (Sarah Snook) in a wild, rambling San Jose, California, mansion that's continually being expanded, day and night. The board of the Winchester Rifle Co. hires Dr. Eric Price (Jason Clarke) to evaluate Sarah's psychological state and determine whether she can hold on to her 51 percent of the profitable company -- or whether that ownership should revert to the board. A regular user of the opiate drug laudanum, Price goes to the mansion and immediately starts seeing ghosts. His interviews with Sarah show that she's clever and canny; she questions him as much as he questions her. He discovers that she talks to spirits -- supposedly victims of Winchester guns -- and builds rooms on the house to help them with with their unfinished business. Before long, an extra-powerful ghost arrives, and Price must decide what he believes in before he can help set things right.
Is it any good?
This movie offered the chance to combine a fascinating real-life story with high-class horror, but despite some positives, it loses focus on its main character and turns bafflingly routine. The directors -- Australian twins Michael and Peter Spierig -- previously made the moody, fun Daybreakers and the excellent sci-fi thriller Predestination, but little of that talent is on display here. Winchester starts well enough, filling in some of the details of Sarah Winchester's life and offering a fine, frosty performance by Mirren. But before long, the ghosts appear, and they're represented by terribly unimaginative visual effects and crushingly ordinary jump scares. (These are supposed to be "real-life" ghosts! Couldn't they be less movie-ish?)
As chaos ensues, the movie forgets its characters, especially Sarah's niece, played by the wonderful Snook, who gave such an extraordinary performance in Predestination. It even seems to forget whether its story is about ghosts, gun violence, or Sarah Winchester. Indeed, the movie's ultimate focus seems to be on the supervillain, the highly powerful ghost, who couldn't be duller. More than anything, and with so much potential, Winchester is just a huge disappointment.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Winchester's violence. What role do guns play in the story? How does the movie view them? Are they a tool for evil? Do they have benefits?
Is the movie scary? Does it seem scarier -- or less scary -- than other thriller/horror movies because it's based on fact?
Is Sarah Winchester a strong role model? Why or why not?
How much did you learn about Sarah Winchester from this movie? What do you think might have been changed for storytelling purposes? Would you be interested in researching to learn more?
- In theaters: February 2, 2018
- On DVD or streaming: May 1, 2018
- Cast: Helen Mirren, Sarah Snook, Jason Clarke
- Directors: Michael Spierig, Peter Spierig
- Studio: CBS Films
- Genre: Thriller
- Topics: Monsters, Ghosts, and Vampires
- Run time: 99 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: violence, disturbing images, drug content, some sexual material and thematic elements
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.