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Soundtrack review: Winchester (Peter Spierig – 2018)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: Winchester (Peter Spierig – 2018)

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After the sudden death of her family, firearms heiress Sarah Winchester (Helen Mirren) becomes convinced that she’s haunted by the souls of those killed by guns. Winchester then decides to build an enormous mansion that’s designed to keep the evil spirits at bay. When skeptical psychiatrist Eric Price (Jason Clarke) visits the estate to evaluate her state of mind, he soon discovers that her obsession may not be so far-fetched after all. I love both Mirren and Clarke so this movie is on my list. The score was written by the director of the movie, Peter Spierig, and this is always an interesting situation when the director takes it upon himself to also provide the music.

These past couple of years the horror genre has been dominating both movies and TV so we’ve had more horror scores than any other kind I think. What cam director Peter Spierig bring to the table? With a cast like this it’s clearly not a B movie so the score needs to rise to the occasion. Even in 2018 I’ve already heard a brilliant horror score by Ben Lovett “The ritual”. The score opens with “The Winchester house” which breaks the usual habit of horror scores maybe having a couple of light melodic cues at the beginning which show the idyllic life before. The composer / director dives right into the thick, dark atmosphere he sets for the movie with a minimalistic, textural piece that scares by being quiet and growling in the background. it is a bit too quiet for my taste as I keep waiting for the bite.

The lighter, melodic cue I was expecting comes right away with “Employment”; the piano evokes a carefree life while keeping a finger in the dark atmosphere set before. “Marion” is the first cue I really like from “Winchester” as it’s a dense ambient piece that likes of which always gets to me right away; it reminds me of Moby’s “Anthem” with the heavy piano. As the composer varies his sound and gives me a choice, I like it best when the score goes this ambient route. Something seems to be missing from the horror pieces for me, they are too quiet sometimes or maybe because they are scattered they fail to make the desired impact. I imagine since the director wrote the score a cue like “Poisoned mind” makes sense in the context of the movie but in the standalone listening experience it just fades away and I enjoy much more something like “The shadows”.

I guess this was my biggest problem with “Winchester”, how uneven it was. Peter Spierig can clearly write good and meaningful film music as a lot of cues and especially the 8 minutes long “The Winchester curse” show. The atmosphere he creates when the score is not supposed to be scary holds much better for me as the horror pieces just turn to smoke and lose me midway through. The director used the music to deepen and intensify the atmosphere of his movie. I found moments to like in “Winchester” though and I am sure you will too.

Cue rating: 79 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 20 / 67

Album excellence: 29%

Highlights:
03 Marion
05 Mrs. Winchester
10 The Winchester Curse
17 Aftermath
21 Rebuild
22 End Credits

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Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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