Over the past few years Scandinavian horror has been making quite the mark on genre cinema, with filmmakers finding ways to surprise audiences and subvert expectations with titles like Let the Right One In, Not Like Others and Cold Prey. Some even mine spooky Nordic folklore for frights — think Marianne and Trollhunter — lending their films a unique tone quite unlike anything else around. But while it has been touted as the Swedish Evil Dead, Wither neglects any indigenous ideas in favour of mirroring the likes of Raimi’s classic and myriad other US zombie flicks. And, though it has a lot of potential, gratuitous splatter FX aside, it fails to offer much in the way of ingenuity, its set-up all too familiar to horror audiences.
Creepy illustrated credits promise all kinds of sinister beasties lurking under houses and devouring children, and really evoke a sense of folkloric impishness. Directors Sonny Laguna and Tommy Wiklund (who previously made the snow-bound slasher Blood Runs Cold and backwoods hillbilly horror Madness) seem more interested in revelling in blood and gore than exploring lore, though. Cutting to the chase fairly quickly, they establish their characters and the setting in the broadest of strokes before letting rip with buckets of claret and viscera. The plot is based around the rising body count, as one by one, the group of friends succumbs to the bloodlust, which seems to be passed on — in typical zombie movie fashion— through bites, scratches and cuts. The monster itself is really only a convenient means to an Evil Dead styled end, briefly glimpsed early on and then again at the climax.
The reintroduction of a character from the prologue, in which a man discovers his wife feasting on their young daughter in the rain-spattered forest, doesn’t add much to the plot except another body to eviscerate. And throughout the duration we don’t get to know characters well enough to feel any sympathy or empathy for them — only the young couple at the heart of the group, Ida and Albin, are remotely fleshed out. Of course it’s arguable that with films like this, characterisation takes a back seat to gory set-pieces and sloshy effects, and that’s fine — so long as the story holds up.
The climax, when we finally get to it, feels a little rushed and Wither eventually emerges as an entertaining if not very original demonic possession slash zombie gorefest that, at the very least, showcases the energy and zest its makers obviously have for creating scenes of bloody mayhem and wincing effects.
Wither screens today at 9 p.m. and again on Sunday at 11.10 p.m.