Directed by Sonny Laguna and Tommy Wiklund
“Say goodbye to your friends,” reads the tagline of Blood Runs Cold directors Sonny Laguna and Tommy Wiklund’s new Evil Dead-inspired gorefest Wither — and it couldn’t be more succinctly apt an overview of what this wonderful little indie is all about.
An out-and-out unapologetic homage to Sam Raimi’s seminal classic, Wither sees a group of young friends set out for a weekend of partying at a cabin in the woods, only to fall foul of a soul-stealing entity residing in the cellar. Rather than an evil book or other demonic totem, in this outing directors Laguna and Wiklund make use of a folklorish creature said to reside underground. Should anyone trespass on the land of these creatures, they may face their wrath — and to look one in the eyes would see it rip the soul from your body. So, of course, soon after arriving at the cabin, one of the party-seekers takes a look at the thing concealed below and the wheels are set in motion.
Later that night, the afflicted member begins bleeding from most orifices, before collapsing and finally attacking a friend, gorily ripping the upper lip from her face in a display of delightfully old-school practical effects work. Abruptly joined by the rifle-toting Gunnar (Johannes Brost), whose family has also succumbed to the evil at work, the remaining group set about contacting the police and attempting to decide on a way out, and how to help their friend. Sadly for them, they soon find it impossible to keep up with the rapidly-spreading tide of possession and death as one by one they’re either turned by their now-monstrous amigos or hacked to bits.
Wither makes no big bones about what it is, refusing to delve too deep into developing its characters in favour of getting to the demonic goods — yet Laguna and Wiklund pull it off in grand style with a display of genuine affection for the genre, some great low-budget atmosphere and grainy film visuals (likely added in post-production, yet never imbuing the film with that ultra-fake “Grindhouse” look) that match perfectly to the carnage that unfolds. The various gore effects are rarely less than fantastic for a film with such a limited budget, utilising a mix of prosthetic effects with subtle CGI, and likewise the locations and setups reek of a quality grasped far beyond the means. It’s wonderfully obvious throughout that every single sliver of money behind this project has made it onto the screen.
There’s little more to know about Wither, as the general setup has been seen a whole bunch of times before — several friends go to a cabin and are forced to mutilate their possessed companions as the numbers whittle down. Of special note amongst the cast is Patrik Almkvist as Albin, whose late-game encounter with the Medusa-like creature from the cellar elicits such an authentically panicked and weary wail of “No no no no no!” as he scrambles to get away that it’ll slap a grin right across your face.
This is an indie homage done right, loaded with love for the genre and behind-the-scenes talent to boot. While I’m no fan of the directing duo’s previous effort, Blood Runs Cold, Laguna and Wiklund have hit a home run with Wither. It’s grim, gory and horrific — and while by no means perfect (the ending is particularly unsatisfying — lacking dynamism or energy for what should be a rewarding final struggle against the central evil), it’s a top-class effort made with little resources by a team who obviously really care about what they’re doing. In fact, it’s probably the best Evil Dead movie that isn’t an Evil Dead movie. There’s doubtless no better accolade for it than that, and any fan of Raimi’s now legendary debut should readily devour it.
4 out of 5