FrightFest 2013: Wither

Anton Bitel,

A cabin in the woods. A toolshed. A cellar complete with trapdoor. Supernaturally suppurating co-eds requiring dismemberment. And a final boy (Patrik Almkvist) forced to confront his loved one (Lisa Henni) in the most horrific of circumstances. Yep, 'wither' must be Swedish for 'the evil dead', as this Nordic nasty slavishly drums out every beat of Sam Raimi's 1981 classic, positioning itself as unofficial 'premake' to Fede Alvarez's authorised reimagining Evil Dead (2013).

There are some minimal differences. Gone is Raimi's innovative unsteadicam POV tracking shots. Gone is the tree rape. Gone too are the Lovecraftian pages of the Necronomicon, and the 'Candarian demons' (here replaced with an ancient Swedish creature in the basement able to possess humans with her Medusa-like stare). And entirely gone is any of Raimi's sly sense of comedy. Sonny Laguna and Tommy Wiklund play out their second-hand routines entirely straight.

The results are mixed. On the one hand, Wither feels more like an imitative exercise than an actual film in its own right. Events here are totally by rote, and about as soulless as the zombified vacationers. Attempts to flesh out the thin characterisation with pre-cabin sequences and the odd flashback just seems like padding without any obvious payoff (are hero Albin's unemployment and impecuniousness, stressed so much in the film's opening scenes, ever in any way germane to what happens?). Meanwhile, Wither's po-faced approach comes across as decidedly outmoded in the wake of The Cabin in the Woods (2012), with its sophisticated deconstruction of all these now ossified tropes.   

On the other hand, Laguna and Wiklund do find inventive ways to integrate working mobile phones into their backwoods slash-and-dash - and there is a lot of craft on display in Wither, as the two filmmakers show their easy way with creepy atmospherics, grimy set design and grotesque gore effects. This is certainly a big step up from their no-budget debut Blood Runs Cold (2011), and if they continue to improve at this rate, they might soon make a film that feels like more than its directors merely earning their chops - with an axe.

Catch 'Wither' at Film4 FrightFest 2013...

Discovery Screen 2, Fri 23rd August, 9pm
Discovery Screen 1, Sun 25th August, 11.10pm

Follow Anton on Twitter: @AntBit

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