In the last decade or so, Scandinavia has pumped out a number of successful genre flicks, namely Let The Right One In, Deep Snow and Troll Hunter, and the spotlight continues to shine on its contribution to the genre. Up next: Wither. If you like Evil Dead (and let’s face it, who doesn’t?) you’re going to love this gritty, low budget cabin horror from two of Sweden’s budding horror filmmakers, Tommy Wiklund and Sonny Laguna. Having experimented with cabin-reunions-gone-wrong in their first feature, winter slasher Blood Runs Cold (which also saw its premiere at Frightfest in 2011), the co-directors’ latest flick hurdles into cabin-in-the-wood curses, buckets of blood and a shed load of dead-creepy possessions.
With the UK premiere of Evil Dead-inspired Wither next month at Film4 Frightfest, featuring twice in this year’s programme, we caught up with Wiklund and Sonny Laguna about cabin horror, working in Sweden and the pain in their behind… microbudgets!
Becky Roberts: Even from first looks at the trailer, people have very much dubbed this an Evil Dead-esque horror, and in the film there are clearly similarities from the cabin horror premise to the relentless attack sequences. How much was Evil Dead an influence or was it more a result of your enthusiasm for cabin horror?
Tommy Wiklund: People like to put films in a box and then put on a label that pretty much describes the whole thing in one word. For Wither, that means it's an Evil Dead-type of film. Evil Dead, the original, is one of my favourite films of all time. That film alone for me was one of the main reasons I thought it as possible to put together a film with a low budget and a small crew. I can say for certain that the creature design was heavily inspired by Evil Dead. I think the rest of the film is just our imagination based on our experiences from other films.
BR: Your 2011 winter chiller Blood Runs Cold was also a cabin horror. What made you decide to stick with a similar concept / sub genre?
Sonny Laguna: It all comes down to budget, what we can d and what type of house we can shoot in. We can't afford to create a set from scratch or have, let's say a ballroom filled with hundreds of extras and a lot of other things that pump up the production value. As an example, in Blood Runs Cold we tried to populate a bar with extras in different ages. We had around 20 people that told us that they were gonna show up: two came. So that is a problem here in Sweden, the film culture is just limited, especially for the horror genre. But we wouldn't have done this type of film if we didn't enjoy making it.
BR: A criticism of Blood Runs Cold was its alleged inability to adapt Swedish actors for an English-language performance. Was this a factor in your decision to make Wither a Swedish-language film?
SL: Well, it was a factor but not the only one. We've always wanted to make a Swedish horror film but couldn't find a concept until now that would have a chance here on this kind of budget. Wither was that kind of idea that could work and the end result is a wide theatrical release here in Sweden.
BR: What I like most about Wither is its ability to intermittently withdraw from the action to reflect on the characters’ emotion as it added much more individual suffering as opposed to just group torture. Was it your intention to add more depth to your characters?
TW: I'm glad to hear that you noticed that. We tried to develop each character on their own and together as a group. We really wanted to show the difference in a person's reaction when the same extreme event happens to them. For example, Simon in the film is a more selfish guy then Albin (the main character), so his initial reaction is to take care of himself. That was something we really tried to push for.
BR: You used panning camera shots a lot to transition from one scene or one character to the next, as opposed to quick cutaways. Was this your intention from the beginning and where did the idea to use technique come from?
TW: It's a style of shooting and storytelling we like. We don't want to make it look too produced, too perfect for its own good. We really wanted Wither to feel more gritty, more captured in the moment so to speak. We think that's why the found footage-genre is so popular, it feels like someone was actually there to capture the action. And this technique in our case can actually enhance the production value, again without sacrificing the realistic approach.
BR: How did you decide on the appearance?; What was the make-up process like and was the decision to ignore CGI purely a financial one?
SL: Well, as mentioned earlier, it was very much an Evil Dead-inspired design. We wanted the creatures to feel human at times because underneath that possession, there are still traces of the old self left. We never wanted to be compared to zombie films, because our vision of a zombie is much more traditional than this. The shooting took about 50 days because of the make-up process taking time. We had some help from a talented girl named Leo Thörn that helped doing some prosthetics, otherwise David and Tommy did most of the practical effects/make-up. About CGI, my favourite thing about filmmaking, there are a couple of hundred shots that were in some way manipulated through CGI but used sparingly. I love CGI but as every aspect of film, it needs to be used at the right time.
BR: With your films all being done on a micro budget, you certainly embrace it. But what are the toughest barriers you face with concerns to production values?
TW: One of the toughest things about not having enough money is to actually produce the whole thing. To get actors on set at the same time and when we need them to, when we can't pay them as much as we would like. We were extremely lucky to have such a dedicated cast, especially Lisa Henni and Patrik Almkvist that were in the film in almost every scene. They wanted this as much as we did, so they sacrificed a lot of weekends for us and the film. We certainly would like to have a bigger budget, but sadly, we don't earn enough money on this to even pay our own salaries. We don't know how much longer we can keep doing this if we can't break through on the market and make a good profit.
BR: The curse that turns those who are consumed by it into ravenous and violent monsters is explained to be supposedly buried deep in the past of this cabin. Was there an origin of this tale?
SL: Yes, the tale speaks about weird creatures living underneath us in the ground. If you were to build a house on their territory, things would go very bad. We took that tale and twisted it a bit. In the intro to the film we have drawings from different time periods that tells the tale over and over again.
BR: Are you influenced by any particular Scandinavian, or even European, directors / works?
TW: We love the Fritt Vilt (Cold Prey) trilogy from Norway. France is a great country for producing gritty and violent horrors that still maintain great production values.
BR: How excited are you that Wither has been chosen to feature twice in the Frightfest programme next month?
SL: Well, since we are in the middle of the shooting our next film we can't think about it that much. But it seems to be one of the most classy horror film festivals there is so that is a great honour and good inspiration for us to keep pushing the envelope.
BR: You’re already onto filming your next feature. Can you tell us a little bit about that? Another horror?
SL: It's a horror alright. Very different from Wither, but still features a cabin. It just went very well with the story we are trying to tell. It's in English and it features the worst kind of evil there is, mankind. I can't share that much more right now but we are doing a lot of daily updates on our Facebook page, and yeah, please like us. We are "like"-sluts. www.facebook.com/stockholmsyndromefilm
BR: Lastly, what did you think of Fede Alvarez' homage to the Evil Dead franchise in his recent remake?
TW: Actually, we haven't seen the thing yet. We have chosen not to watch it in cinemas because we want a 100% focused experience at home. I've ordered it on Blu-ray and just waiting for it to arrive. I have a pretty good set up at home so we are gonna religiously watch it soon, so looking forward to it. The trailer looks amazing.
A huge thanks to Sonny and Tommy for conducting the interview, and to co-writer David Liljeblad for his input. Wither will premiere at Film4 Frightfest on Friday 23rd (9pm) with a repeated showing on the Sunday 25th (11:10pm). A UK distribution has not yet been secured.
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