The Spierig Brothers – Peter and Michael – are Aussie filmmakers who first appeared on the scene in 2003, with their energetic and enthusiastic low budget zombie film, Undead. They wrote, directed, produced and even provided special effects (good ones at that) for the flick. In all honesty it wasn’t a timeless genre classic, but spoke of a precociousness and a DIY desire that was instantly endearing.
Cut to 2009 and the brothers released the criminally underrated Daybreakers, a clever dystopian vampire flick starring Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe and Sam Neill. While the film wasn’t a box office smash, it performed solidly and garnered the identical twin brothers a reputation as serious genre filmmakers to watch. In 2014 that reputation was cemented with Predestination, a clever and cerebral thriller based on Robert A. Heinlein’s short story All You Zombies, and featured an absolutely startling performance by Aussie actress Sarah Snook.
Now, in 2017, the Spierig brothers have two major projects coming up. Firstly there’s Jigsaw, the next chapter in the long-running Saw franchise and next year, Winchester, a ghost story with some true life connections, starring Helen Mirren (!). These brothers have come a long way, baby.
So FilmInk has been chatting with you guys since Undead and it’s been great to see your progress, making unique and interesting films.
It’s funny to think about back then, we were so young and naive! We’ve had some opportunities that have worked, and some things that have just not come together or weren’t that interesting to us, but we’ve always chased the things we love.
So let’s talk Jigsaw. Are you fans of the Saw franchise?
We’re absolutely fans of the Saw franchise and friends and fans of Leigh Whannell and James Wan. It’s a real honour to be able to contribute to the series. The first film is an absolute horror classic, with probably one of the greatest twists in cinema history. Leigh came up with a great character in John Kramer, aka Jigsaw.
So this new film, is it a reboot or a sequel or a pre-sequel or a pre-boot or a remake or, you know, just what is it?
It’s definitely not a remake or a prequel. The film takes place ten years after the events of the last film. So in terms of the history of the other films it’s acknowledging the past for sure. John Kramer has been dead for ten years and that informs a significant part of the story. For us, knowing the franchise was coming back, we had the opportunity to shape it in ways we wished it had gone originally, and push it in a new direction.
So does this ignore the events of previous films or make anything non-canon?
We haven’t done anything to make stuff non-canon. Our approach is, it helps if you’ve seen the other films, and there will be references and callbacks to previous films, but ultimately this is a pretty self contained thing. You can go see this movie without having seen any Saw movies, although it’s helpful to know the history of John Kramer. We’re not excluding anything that has happened in other [Saw] films, but we are trying some new things.
So what’s the new direction you’ve taken Jigsaw in?
Well as the films progressed they got to the point where they were branded as torture porn. It became all about how to make it more gross and violent. When we came into it our pitch was, we wanted to get back to the mystery and thriller, make an edge-of-your-seat experience rather then a ‘can you handle how disgusting this is’ experience. There’s a line in the [Jigsaw] trailer that says “the game is simple, all the best ones are” and that was our attitude.
People tend to forget how clever and smart the first Saw was, and with surprisingly light amounts of violence…
That’s not to say there isn’t blood and guts along the way, there will be plenty of that! Although it’s not the most violent of the series by any stretch of the imagination. We wanted to work out how to keep an audience on the edge of their seats for 90 minutes.
Tell us about Winchester, your big release for 2018 – what’s the story?
Winchester is the story of Sarah Winchester – who is being played by Helen Mirren. She’s the heiress to the Winchester rifle fortune and she believes she’s being haunted by all the souls of people who were killed with the Winchester rifle. So she builds a house to communicate with those souls. It’s actually a partially true story – Winchester House exists! It’s a fascinating story which we shot partially in Melbourne but also some of it in the actual Winchester House.
That’s legitimately amazing.
We’re the first film crew who were allowed to do that, so it was a huge honour for us. Also working with an actress like Helen Mirren on her first creepy haunted house film has been a wonderful experience. Plus we have Jason Clarke, Sarah Snook and Angus Sampson and some other Aussies.
So if Jigsaw dominates the box office, or is a critical darling, would you guys consider going back and making another?
If those things you mentioned do pan out, maybe. We’ve talked with the writer and producers about some story points and things that could continue, but at this stage we’re not entirely sure. There’s a really cool story there and hopefully there’ll be more to tell.
Jigsaw releases Australia wide on November 2, and Winchester haunts our shores in early 2018.