“WITHER” (Movie Review)
Whether WITHER positioned itself as a child of Sam Raimi’s iconic low budget debut or not, the lineage would be easy to trace. A group of friends, an old cabin in the woods, rampant possession and a particularly nasty air are all elements shared by Tommy Wiklund & Sonny Laguna’s latest and the 1981 all-timer THE EVIL DEAD. If WITHER doesn’t exactly measure up to its prominent stylistic influence (most homage doesn’t), it can’t be too heavily faulted. And hell, it’s not for lack of trying. For all its gore and grue, the Swedish tale of terror achieves its goal of being off-putting, but in all the wrong ways.
Not at first, however. WITHER refreshingly doesn’t open in a car and with a trip already embarked upon. Directors Wiklund and Laguna, and their co-writer David Liljeblad, instead reveal a bit of home life of couple Albin (Patrik Almkvist) and Ida (Lisa Henni). The two are planning a weekend getaway in an abandoned cabin found by Albin’s father, and snippets of their morning routine, day jobs and dinner with Albin’s parents are endearing and three dimensional. And once the ensemble of young folk come into play, there’s a chemistry usually missing from this brand of beautiful-twentysomethings-in-supernatural-trouble—that’s even if their characters are mostly defined by cool jackets, lip piercings and shoulder-revealing dresses.
Admirably, the directing team isn’t concerned with a flat aesthetic either. Having clearly touched up their film in editing to adorn WITHER with something akin to an Instagram filter, the result is occasionally cheesy but does lend a bit of style to the proceedings. That’s in addition to some fairly evocative photography, most especially when a character ventures into the requisite basement, is swallowed by darkness and comes face-to-face with the proper creepy Vættir (a creature of Scandinavian folklore, and that which clearly kicks off the madness).
The splatterfest that ensues is oddly and perhaps ironically, for a movie with intentions such as these, where WITHER develops a repulsive undercurrent. It’s not the bursts of red ultraviolence—those have more of a well crafted, old familiar feel—but the rapid pace with which the friends resort to them. It seems the filmmakers have forgotten that while we’ve all seen EVIL DEAD, their characters haven’t (at least, it’s not mentioned in any sort of meta way). Once the eyes of these young adults roll back, film over and blood spews from their orifices, their friends are just as quickly on top of them, brutally beating away with whichever blunt object is nearest. The group shares little in the way of shock, instead almost immediately smashing faces in, blowing holes in heads and impaling away. Being the majority of the principal cast is women and that’s who falls prey first, WITHER can’t avoid taking on an unsettling atmosphere when their male counterparts start perpetrating such graphic business.
Whether that’s indicative of a larger sentiment from Wiklund and Laguna seems unlikely, but it does reveal they lack finesse, as is further evidenced by the old “look at the hole shot through this dude’s head” trick used on a melancholy character who commits suicide. It’s particularly out of place and wrongheaded, rather than punk rock and irreverent, and ends up skewing WITHER from fun homemade horror enthusiasm to something grosser.
WITHER is now available on DVD from Artsploitation Films. It’s accompanied by a behind the scenes featurette, a deleted scene and eight-page collector’s booklet.