It would be easy to dismiss Wither as nothing more than yet another uninspired entry in the already well stocked cabin in the woods sub-genre of horror; a sub-genre best represented by Sam Raimi’s classic 1979 feature debut The Evil Dead to which Wither owes a mountainous, unignorable debt. Some have already given this bloody Scandinavian gem a bit of a kicking for being too in hock to its influences. Wrongly I may add. It may play out beat for beat like a homage but that alone doesn't a bad movie make. This is a truly entertaining rollercoaster of mayhem that manages to rise above most of its peers to deliver something that for most of it's run-time is a total blast.
Wither focuses on a group of twenty-something’s who head off to a cabin nestled deep within the remote Swedish woodlands for a weekend full of alcohol and sex filled shenanigans. There’s a trapdoor that leads to a basement room where a terrible evil lurks. The something terrible in question is a Vittra, a creature of Scandinavian myth, which swallows the souls (where have I heard that before?) of anyone unwitting enough to meet its gaze, transforming them into flesh eating zombies. In a lot of ways the end result is the movie that The Evil Dead remake promised to be but fudged slightly by attempting to rewire the simplicity of the original movie for the modern horror audience. Wither feels more old school. More authentically grimy.
Perhaps it's something that comes with the movie being a low-budget indie affair. The amount of money available to the film-makers was puny compared with what Fede Alvarez had to play with but there’s some impressive practical effects on display here and by the end of the movie the cabin where the action takes place looks like it’s had an abattoir makeover. There are plenty of crowd-pleasing moments of violence on display here and once past the relatively dull first half hour any issues with the script and the performances dissolve in a wildly effective display of carnage. It's hardly surprising that Wither has been met with approval from Festival crowds the world over. This kind of blood soaked, flesh munching fun is exactly the sort of thing that plays well to a crowd looking for some visceral thrills, something that Wither delivers with an enthusiastic, unforgiving and somewhat demonic grin.
This is less for those who like their horror subtle and more for genre fans who like gallons of the red stuff being chucked around instead. Is it scary? Fleetingly. But the film-makers are more concerned with delivering an action packed gore-fest. This isn’t to suggest that it doesn’t have anything more than an impressively grisly body count going for it. The score succeeds in lending the movie a tangible and impressive atmosphere of doom and the whole thing is cleverly shot, making excellent use of the claustrophobic confines of the cabin that plays host to the splatter-fest that ensues. In terms of cinematography and clever camerawork it couldn't hope to attain the level of inspired lunacy that Raimi brought to bear but it's no slouch and thankfully there's no over-reliance on the type of shaky-cam theatrics that often mar modern cinema.
Directors Laguna and Wickland aren't trying to reinvent the wheel here. They've already seen the wheel, admired it and in Wither they try their hardest to produce something that works equally well. They fail but do so with style. This is the work of people who are passionate about the horror genre as opposed to a cheap hack job. It works in the spirit it was no doubt intended; a well-constructed, respectful homage to The Evil Dead. I’m keen to see what this team of film-makers could achieve if they decide to step outside the boundaries imposed by their influences. Wither suggests with a little more originality and a bigger budget they could produce something special.
Wither is released on DVD in the UK on June 30th by Signature Entertainment.