Ah, ‘The Evil Dead’. Everyone loves ‘The Evil Dead’. An example of shoestring horror at its finest, it was endlessly creative, funny, and scary; despite initially, and stupidly, falling foul of the whole ‘video nasties’ thing, we can all now agree its position in the pantheon of truly great horror movies. Following the increasingly desperate Hollywood trend, in 2013 we were introduced to the remake / reboot / rehash ‘Evil Dead’ directed by Fede Alvarez. Despite it massively polarising audiences and critics alike – Stiggy herself dropped the H-bomb on it – I really liked it; by taking the full-on hardcore approach to the franchise, Alvarez gave us something both immediately familiar yet visually interesting. Sure, it lost something by ditching the humour and going for completely bleak and miserable, but it was entertaining and it was a ‘proper’ horror movie in a sea of increasingly watered down, teen friendly, nonsense. Due in June from Signature Entertainment is ‘Wither’; to all intents and purposes a Swedish language remake of the ‘Evil Dead’.
When couple Albin and Ida get away for the weekend to a deserted cabin out in the forest, they take along a group of friends to get drunk, hook up and have a good time. When one of their party comes across an ancient evil lurking in the basement, the weekend is turned on its head. As different people become possessed, and as the cabin’s murky past is revealed, Albin must fight against increasing odds to save Ida’s life and to escape from the cabin before he too meets a grisly end.
Whilst not officially a remake of ‘Evil Dead’, that’s absolutely what ‘Wither’ is. The plot is almost identical, the clichéd characters identical, even the familial dynamic is repeated. If you’ve seen the 2013 movie you know exactly what to expect here; although some of the plot beats are reshuffled to different points in the movie, they are all in there. Don’t expect any twists, turns or unexpected developments – the stories are exactly the same. ‘Wither’ does flirt with introducing a traditional mythology aspect to its narrative but quickly seems to abandon it; instead of a demon creating Deadites, an altogether less well defined ‘monster’ lives in the basement but does the same job.
The cast is completely fine for a genre piece although, it has to be said, most of them are model-esque which does seem quite odd. The majority of the cast are called upon to play their normal character as well as the possessed version of it which they do rather well. I had problems with Max Wallmo as Markus however; he doesn’t quite play it straight enough, hamming it up and gurning throughout, and I found him rather distracting. The others were all solid, with a particular highlight being Patrick Saxe as Simon, Ida’s brother, who puts in a good performance; clearly supposed to be the stereotypical douchebag, he actually comes some way to redeeming the character, and is in turns sleazy, self-obsessed and terrified as the film progresses.
‘Wither’ is directed by writing team Sonny Laguna and Tommy Wiklund, who were also responsible for 2011’s awful ‘Blood Runs Cold’. I really didn’t like that movie at all, finding it lacking in creativity, characterisation and stuffed with terrible production choices, so I was very wary of tackling their latest work. To say I was surprised was an understatement; it really is rather good. Their camera work is solid, keeping everything nicely framed and in focus, and the lighting is very well done given large sequences take place outside at night. There are a few shots that don’t really succeed – weird angles and close ups of random things – but these are few and far between. There is liberal use of shaky cam towards the end of the film but this does not fall into the nausea-inducing trap that many small budget films do and they do a great job of keeping the action clear and easy to follow despite it taking place in close quarters.
The real star of ‘Wither’ though is the special effects. After an initially slow opening act, the film turns violent rather quickly and doesn’t let up throughout. Given that the movie was shot on a budget of about £27,000 the effects and makeup teams have done an excellent job. The possession make-up is great and there are huge amounts of blood thrown around; when you consider that for such a low budget, they’ve managed endless convincing injury detail, cannibalism, several rifle shots to the head, and people having various appendages torn off, the achievement is even more remarkable. There are some computer generated effects too but they are very subtly done and generally indistinguishable from the practical stuff; there is one short sequence involving a rolling eye that is creepily good. If I have one quibble it’s that one or two of the fight sequences look a bit amateur but this is something easily forgiven when everything else is so competently done.
Like ‘Evil Dead’, ‘Wither’ will polarise fans. Some will see it, rightfully, as a low-budget almost scene-for-scene copy of ‘Evil Dead’ and dismiss it accordingly. To do so though is to do it a disservice; it is a well-crafted and well shot little movie. It has a solid cast and, for the budget, brilliant special effects. I expect genre fans will embrace it; it is gory, brutal, and great fun. On a personal note, Laguna and Wiklund have transitioned from ‘Blood Runs Cold’, which I loathed, to ‘Wither’ which I really enjoyed; I would be really interested in seeing them work with an original idea now and seeing how far they can take it. With Scandinavian horror increasingly available oversees, the pair have gone from the bottom of the heap to the upper strata with ‘Wither’ and I’m excited to see what comes next. Check out ‘Wither’ – it’s a bloody, if derivative, good time and great fun.
3.5 / 5