Beautiful people in jeopardy is probably the most basic, and most successful, horror formula out there. The producers of Swedish splatter film Wither take that age old idea and run with it, throwing in buckets of blood, demon possessions and heavy homage to Sam Raimi.
A group of friends, led by the charming Albin (Patrik Almkvist), is heading to the country to stay the weekend in an abandoned farmhouse that Albin's father ran across. Along for the trip are Albin's girlfriend Ida (Lisa Henni), her brother Simon (Patrick Saxe), Markus (Max Wallmo), and a couple of other girls to round out the prettiness factor. The audience knows something's not right in the area, since the film opened with a middle aged man having to kill his daughter, who was possessed and eating his wife. The attractive young people don't know what they're getting themselves into.
The trouble starts when Marie (Jessica Blomkvist) wanders down into the cellar, and there encounters the Vaettr, a traditional Swedish demon, who infects her with its malevolent will. At first, she seems barely affected, but she quickly leaves the hard partying group and stumbles to the bathroom, where her transformation completes. Tove (Anna Henriksson) sees her in the hallway, and is immediately attacked. Events degrade from there.
Directors Sonny Laguna and Tommy Wiklund make sure to hit all of the genre notes. They have the attractive kids partying in the wilderness, the crazy old guy with the gun warning them off and filling in backstory, the creepy basement, and the requisite blood and gore in large quantities. The tension starts early, and doesn't really let up until close to the end. The third act is something of a muddle, and the outré mood, helped a lot by the eerie look of the film, dissipates somewhat as the narrative falls apart a bit. But even though Wither doesn't quite stick the landing, it provides a lot of chills and dread along the way.
The performances are all naturalistic and convincing, with Jessica Blomkvist as Marie being the standout. The descent from sweet, innocent girl to evil hell creature is subtle and convincing. But everyone does a first rate job, even if they are required by the script to act in odd ways from time to time. (Why did Marie go down into the basement in the first place? It wasn't necessary. Was she drawn by the evil spirit? It's never explained.) The blood and gore effects are excellent, and appear to be mostly practical, though there might have been a touch of digital enhancement here and there. There are some definite digital effects on display with regard to the demon transformation, during which the eyes roll grotesquely back in the head. These are very well done.
The look of the film is very evocative as well, and even though it appears to have been filmed on mini-DV, effects have been added in post to make it look very much like a mid-seventies film, with warm light, film scratches, lens dirt and all the rest. This adds a lot to the mood, and enhances the already striking imagery on display.
Wither doesn't break any new ground, and it certainly isn't perfect. But it does a bang up job with a beloved horror sub-genre, and gives us plenty of scares and unease to satisfy. Highly recommended.
The image is 2.35:1 widescreen, and looks very good. As mentioned above, there are film imperfections throughout, but these appear to have been added in intentionally, and only enhance the viewing experience.
Audio is available in Dolby digital 5.1 and 2.0 channel. It sounds quite good, and wraps the viewer up in the experience. No hiss or other problem can be heard, and the dialogue is always audible, though this shouldn't be a problem for non-Swedish speakers, as English subtitles are included. There was one moment where a few lines of dialogue lacked subtitles, but that's the only flaw there. No alternate language track is included.
There are a few extras. They are:
Behind the Scenes
This runs to almost 32 minutes, and is comprised of a lot of behind the scenes footage, with short, informal interviews with Sonny Laguna, Tommy Wiklund and others. It shows multiple takes, application of makeup, and other set events, including a change that had to be made because of a massive wasp's nest. This is fairly interesting.
This runs to 8:29, and is a long scene from the end involving the police arriving that was cut out as it didn't seem to fit with the rest of the film.
This is a stylish trailer that runs to 1:55.
Trailers are included for Clip, Hemel, Hidden in the Woods and Toad Road.
Wither isn't a perfect film, and definitely not an original one. But it does the job of a horror film admirably: discomfit and thrill the audience. Horror is an experiential genre, and Wither provides a gory and fun experience. Check it out.