The first ever Swedish zombie film in cinemas delivers great gore, zizzling zombies and murderous mayhem.
When a horror film premiere makes it to the main news on national TV, you know it’s a big thing. Such was the case with Wither (original title: Vittra) which opened in 15 selected theatres across Sweden. Not a wide release, but the news was that the film was Sweden’s first ever “official” zombie film in the sense that is was shown in cinemas. Yes, horror movies are so few and far between in Sweden that they make the news! That also says something about what to expect; certainly in Scandinavia, as these small countries enter the horror scene one by one, they have attempted to deliver classic stories in a time tested subgenre.
Such is of course the case with Wither; 20-something adults go to a cabin in the woods for some sleazy fun, only to find themselves under threat by something that changes people into attacking zombie-like monsters. An old man who had his own family killed by the beings observes them, and urge them to leave the place immediately. They don’t, and whatever killed the man’s family infects the group, who then tries to kill eachother. Presumably, either to survive or to eat brains.
There isn’t a speck of originality in the story, apart from the origin of the zombies or whatever they are, but the wither mythology is barely touched upon, so for all practical purposes Wither is just dishing out every zombie / forest cabin cliché you can think of. An hommage to Romero and Raimi? Or completely lack of creative goals? I can’t imagine that the directors, who seem to love horror films, deliberately copied every other cabin-in-the-forest films just so they could be “sawed off at the ankle bone” as the Swedes say. Hommage, in other words. The film is a long row of deja vus, but that is to be expected; in Scandinavia there is a tradition of copying well known films when new genres are introduced. Neither Cold Prey, The visitors nor The night watch were highly original movies in an international context. It’s difficult enough to make a horror film in Sweden, and the producers probably wanted something familiar to sell. A “cabin in the woods” movie is something almost all horror fans can relate to, and who’s to say Swedes should ruin a good tradition?
What is different though, perhaps even original, is the fact that the film is void of any comedy and humour. In Scandinavia, it is much easier to brand and sell genre movies if it is an action comedy, a children’s comedy or a horror comedy (not that there are many). Wither has been critizied for “not having any self irony” or “lack of humor” and “should have had some comedy to brighten it up”. Excuse me, but who says horror films are supposed to be funny? There are horror films, and then there are horror comedies. Two different genres basically. Horror comedies are horror movies that are not scary enough on its own and need comedy to fill in the gaps. Wither is a pure and plain horror/splatter film, and even though the film’s major inspiration had great dark comedy in it, there is no law of nature that says horror films must be funny every 10 minutes. Wither is never funny because of jokes or gags or punchlines – it may be considered so bad that it’s funny, but that is a completely different thing. Wither‘s lack of comedy or humour is a great relief, actually, as the art of gushing veins stands on its own, as it does in this film.
The dark tone doesn’t make the film more “serious” though; it’s not pretentious in any way, and knows its own place. Wither is an entertaining film where all you wait for is brutality, blood and beasts, which is delivered aplenty not long after the film’s opening sequences. Billed as Sweden’s most gory film ever, Wither definitely lives up to that and once the bloodshed starts, it almost never ends. The special effects and make-up are of excellent quality, especially for a low budget film (it cost 20-30.000 euros to make), although the zombies are a little uneven in the way they attack and die. Is it really enough to just drop a bookshelf on them? Other splattery scenes are more discomforting in all their details, such as when Gunnar cuts off a person’s head with a knife, and this is perhaps another where the film is original after all, at least in a Nordic context where horror has been more about characters (Let the right one in), atmosphere (Troll Hunter), environment (Cold Prey) and story (Marianne) than intestines. It’s very nice to finally experience some homebrew that holds nothing back in the physical department. The other technical aspects are mostly in favour of the film too; while the sound is sometimes poor, the images are pretty good, and the cabin (an actual building, not a set) makes a good location.
While the red stuff is enough to keep many horror fans happy, it must be pointed out that the script has many flaws, and both characters and actors are the worst part of the film. For example, the film starts with a happy sequence where a family discusses the cabin project, and this feels exaggerated and too contrived and tacked-on, just to establish normality as a contrast to later bloodshed. Further down the line, characters do things for no obvious reasons, and some plot holes are left unanswered. The climax, where the wither thing emerges from the cellar, feels too sudden, and there is very little actual connection between the wither and the zombies that makes sense; did the wither release a virus that created zombies? Will the zombies turn into withers later? Why did the wither stay down in the cellar for so long, even though zombies and people chewed on eachother for a long time three feet above? What is the wither thing, an animal or a mutant?
And why are all the brats so damn annoying? That brings up the paper thin characters; not one of them is sympathetic. There is absolutely nothing in the entire film that makes you feel that they deserve to survive the attacks. They’re just zombie fodder, and maybe that is what the directors and writers (who are the same gang) are trying to tell us? That young people today are obsessed by pleasures and “freedom” and are not ready to take responsible actions? Well, no. There are many lost chances where some kind of message could be outlined, or opportunities for the characters to deepen and widen themselves. It’s not enough to remotely suggest some mental baggage to make characters feel real and likeable. Unfortunately, the actors are not adding much to anything either. Wether they were not directed properly or they’re just not so talented I don’t know, but who cares if they’re just zombie chow, right? Along the same lines; the dialogue seriously needs a doctor. People don’t speak that way in Sweden. Or maybe Stockholm brats do, but everyone laughs at them anyway. The only exception is of course Johannes Brost (who plays the old creepy wise man / zombie hunter Gunnar), an established professional actor who is fun to watch as he tries to get his revenge. Brost can do almost any type of role and I recommend that he stays with this gang for future horror parts!
Wither has all the traits that will make some people go “this is why I hate Swedish horror films” (although these might just dislike low budget movies, and almost all Swedish horror films are low budget), but it is also a fresh breath in an almost non-excisting scene, and furthermore in the fact that it gives the finger to the Swedish film industry who cannot fathom that horror – even bad horror, which Wither ultimately is – is one of the world’s most popular genres in spite of being the opposite of Sweden’s politically correct film scene. Even Swedish mass produced police DTV movies (Wallander, Beck, Huss) have social realism in them, an inheritance from Bergman and Troell. Why can only independent film makers make something out of the box in Sweden? Government film funders in Sweden are cowards, and the Wither team has done their best to work around that, in making a very entertaining bad film.
Directed by Sonny Laguna and Tommy Wiklund.
Rated 6 of 10.