Warning: Major SPOILERS for Winchester ahead
Inspired by true events, Michael and Peter Spierig’s new horror movie Winchester stars Halen Mirren as Sarah Winchester, the widowed heir to Winchester Repeating Arms fortune, who builds an elaborate and nonsensical house that she believes is haunted by the spirits of people killed by Winchester guns. Jason Clarke plays Dr. Eric Price, a drug-addicted psychiatrist who is hired by the Winchester board of directors to assess Sarah’s mental health – with the implicit instruction that he should declare her to unfit to maintain her controlling share of the company. However, Eric is given cause to doubt Sarah Winchester’s madness when he comes face-to-face with the house’s ghosts himself.
The house – known as the Winchester Mystery House – is a real building located in San Jose, California, and the plot of the movie is largely based on the superstitions of the real Sarah Lockwood Winchester. According to popular legend, the Winchester widow was told by a medium that her family was cursed by the spirits of those whose lives had been taken by Winchester rifles, and that she should move west and build a house for the spirits – with construction to be never-ending. The film elaborates on this story, adding the detail that every room in the house is a reconstruction of a room in which one of the Winchester rifles’ victims died, and that once the rooms are build their associated spirit is tied to them until they find a way to pass on.
Much like the house itself, Winchester has a few twists and turns along the way, leading up to a climactic ending that turns the 1906 San Francisco earthquake (which really did wreck the house) into a supernatural phenomenon. Here’s a rundown of Winchester‘s ending, and the big twists.
Twist #1: The Butler Was a Ghost All Along
Soon after entering the house, Eric acknowledges a young butler, who seems surprised at the attention. The same butler is later seen pointedly refusing to pour Eric a glass of wine before dinner, and continues to appear throughout the movie. Eventually Eric has a run-in with the butler that ends with him being led to a set of stairs that seemingly lead to nowhere. When he turns around, the butler’s face is decaying and rotten – yes, it turns out he was a ghost all along, and Eric was the only person who could see him.
He’s not just any ghost, however. He’s the ghost of Corporal Ben Block (Eamon Farron), a Confederate soldier whose two brothers were both killed by Winchester rifles. As revenge, Ben went to a Winchester showroom with one of their rifles and shot fifteen people, before eventually being gunned down by police. Even in death he still lusts for revenge, and instructs Sarah to reconstruct the showroom and fill it with rifles, giving him a great deal of power within the house. Ben possesses Sarah’s niece’s son, Henry, and tries to kill Sarah using Henry. When that fails, he seemingly causes an earthquake that damages the house, and sets free all of the house’s most troubled spirits from their sealed rooms.
Eric, meanwhile, is separated from Sarah during the earthquake, and must find a different way back to her. This takes him to the Winchester house’s garden room – which, as he commented earlier, is similar to a garden room that he once had. This leads us to the second big twist of the movie.
Twist #2: The Garden Room is Haunted By Eric’s Wife
Yes, the garden room isn’t just any garden room – it’s a reconstruction of Eric’s own garden room. This is the room in which Eric’s wife, Ruby shot and (temporarily) killed him, before taking her own life. It’s implied that Ruby, like Sarah Winchester, communicated with spirits, but Eric did not believe her and instead diagnosed her with a delusional disorder. Ruby, using a Winchester rifle, shot Eric in the chest, which stopped his heart for three minutes before he was resuscitated. She then shot herself in the head, but her spirit was brought to the Winchester house by Sarah and made its home in the garden room.
Sarah was also responsible for bringing Eric to the house, as she kept accounts of all the people killed by Winchester rifles, and selected Eric personally when the board pushed for a mental assessment. Because he was killed by a Winchester firearm, even just for a few minutes, Eric has a strong connection to the house and is able to see the ghosts that inhabit it. He also has, as a keepsake, the bullet that Ruby shot him with, which has been restored and engraved. That bullet turns out to be extremely useful.
As for Ruby – she is ultimately able to conclude her unfinished business by speaking to Eric. At the end of the movie, the garden room is deconstructed, as its resident has moved on.
Twist #3: Eric’s Bullet is the Key to Defeating Ben
The final twist is a small but poignant one. As Eric and Sarah struggle to defeat Ben in the rifle room, Sarah realizes that the ghost is afraid of something in the room – something that can hurt him. The first assumption is that this is Ben’s old rifle, but when Eric shoots the ghost with it, he finds that it’s ineffective. The object that Ben actually fears is the restored and engraved bullet that Eric was shot with, which we’re told earlier in the movie has a powerful connection to the afterlife (since it killed someone). Eric loads up the Winchester rifle with the bullet and shoots the ghost, finally putting him (and his brothers) to rest.
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