Directors: The Spierig Brothers
Runtime: 99 minutes
Though my understanding of what genres I enjoy the most has become more acute over the past couple of months, there is one genre I have always disliked: horror films.
This isn’t to say that it’s a particularly ‘bad’ genre. Many horror films, such as The Silence of the Lambs (1991) and The Exorcist (1973), are considered some of the greatest films of all time. They bring us closer to death and make us consider our own malevolent impulses. However, I do not find jump scares exhilarating. As a scaredy cat, they just humiliate and infuriate me.
Nonetheless, I put my hand up to watch Winchester: The House that Ghosts Built, the newest supernatural horror directed by Brisbane’s very own Spierig Brothers (Peter and Michael). Putting aside my prejudices, Winchester was a so-so screen experience. Considering the accolades raining down on other contemporary horror films, such as Get Out (2017), Winchester ticked off the genres main motifs without revolutionising them.
Winchester is set in 1902, and is inspired by the true story of Sarah Winchester (portrayed by Dame Helen Mirren), who was left grief-stricken by the deaths of her baby daughter, Annie, in 1866, and her husband, William, in 1881. As William was the treasurer of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, Sarah becomes convinced that she is haunted by those killed by the Winchester Rifle. She moves to a San Jose ranch and begins renovating it 24/7 to accommodate and appease the spirits.
Winchester features a bevy of familiar Australian faces, including Jason Clarke as Eric Price, an emotionally unhinged psychiatrist sent to assess Ms Winchester’s sanity. Sarah Snook, who featured in the Spierig Brothers’ acclaimed sci-fi thriller, Predestination (2014), portrays Marian Marriott, Ms Winchester’s adoring niece.
We learn that not all of the spirits in the Winchester mansion are so forgiving, and Eric must overcome his personal trauma and cynicism to save Ms Winchester’s family.
Realistically, the Spierig Brothers were fortunate to be able to adapt Ms Winchester’s interesting, often disputed history. Her sprawling mansion and her closeness to the occult are the perfect backdrop for plenty of jump scares. Peter’s music heightens the claustrophobic atmosphere. The sound of violins becomes louder and higher until your entire body is tense, before cutting out completely and leaving you clueless and unnerved as to what is around the corner.
Likewise, you are kept on your toes by cinematographer Ben Nott. He alternates between close-ups and wide shots to suggest the presence of ghostly apparitions lurking in the background. Editor Matt Villa cuts quickly between the two to avoid any sense of complacency.
But, overall, Winchester is very much a forgettable film. Unlike Jordan Peele in Get Out, The Spierig Brothers use jump scares for a bit of afternoon fun, rather than to make us think longer about significant social issues. There are so many avenues where this genre could and should go next.
A house becomes haunted, believers convince the non-believers, and a battle between the living and the undead ensues. They should have stopped when they heard this one before.