Sunday! Glorious Sunday is here again. While most of the UK – if not the world – was watching the men’s final at Wimbledon, I was having lots more fun sitting in front of this little beauty.
You’ll never go camping again.
While on a camping trip to celebrate their anniversary, young couple Seth and Polly are carjacked by an escaped convict and his junkie girlfriend. When they stop for gas they are attacked by the gas-station attendant and are forced to take shelter inside. It turns out that the attendant’s body has been overtaken by a parasitic organism that kills anyone who gets close enough. Now the hostages and the convict will have to work together if they want to stay alive. Wacky hijinks ensue.
Well now, just when I was expecting another low budget, cheap-looking, amateurish, badly-acted stinker of a “horror” film, Splinter comes along and impresses the hell out of me. Co-writer and director Toby Wilkins made a solid feature debut with this 2008 effort by being ambitious but still being aware of his limits at the same time. After the first act in the woods, the rest of the film takes place at just one location – the gas station – and there are only six characters in the whole thing. It’s shot on 35mm instead of digital so the picture has that rich quality. Digital pictures always look very clean and crisp, but a movie like this isn’t supposed to be clean and crisp; it’s supposed to be grubby. I don’t know if the choice was entirely aesthetic or budgetary (or both) but it works. It also makes the flick seem kind of ageless, in a good way. The film could almost be taking place anytime in the last 25 years or so. Splinter reminds me of those hugely imaginative and fun creature features from the 80s, the ones Mary Whitehouse couldn’t get her hands on at least.
Wilkins’ biggest advantage in this film is his cast. The characters are all reasonably well-written, likeable and fully rounded people who take a second to think rationally about the nature of the shit-pile thay have fallen into and react accordingly, instead of thrashing about like the idiots you find in a lot of horror movies these days. But no matter how well-written the characters are, it is the actors who bring them to life. Paulo Costanzo and Jill Wagner have a good chemistry together as the young couple trying to get away from it all, but the secret weapon that Wilkins has got his hands on is Mr Shea Whigham. Anyone who watches Boardwalk Empire knows how good Shea Whigham is. In fact, it was seeing his name in the credits for this that convinced me to watch Splinter in the first place. In his hads, the convict Dennis Farell is arguably the most sympathetic character in the film; a man who is not a cut-out villain, but who doesn’t seek sympathy for the bad things he has done in his life. There is a lot more going on with these people than would be suggested by the genre they happen to be appearing in.
The monster in Splinter is a particularly insidious variety. It is an infection spread by the pointed barbs that stick out of anything infected. I suppose it is closer to a zombie infection than anything else, except that the typical disposal methods for zombies do not apply. Every part of the infected organism can function independently, leading to some sweet little Evil Dead moments as our survivors are chased through the gas station by a severed forearm. As for the final boss (so to speak), it seems the parasite can cause parts of different bodies to fuse together. While it is a nice idea, and the close-ups are executed with some high quality goo, the actual creation of the final monster has some problems. Luckily, Wilkins seems to be fully aware of the limitations of his rubber suit and gets around them using lots of tight, handheld shots and quick edits. That’s when he even shows the thing at all anyway; a considerable portion of the film is just the people in the station while the monster remains unseen outside. Wilkins manages to keep the tension up using sound effects and the constant threat of an impending breach into the building. Even with its flaws though, Wilkins and his effects team are to be commended for doing so much of the creature and its bits practically instead of resorting to CGI, especially considering the man himself spent ten years as a digital effects artist before moving up to the big chair. With the amount of interaction the various parts of the monster has with its environment, I doubt CGI would have been able to come close to having the thing on set.
There is very little that is new in the low-budget horror world, and Splinter is as derivative as everything else when you get right down to brass tacks. There are elements of Evil Dead here, The Thing, Jaws, even Assault on Precinct 13, but this film sets itself apart from a lot of its contemporaries with wit and not a little charm. Yes it’s a yucky, gooey, bloody monster movie, but endearingly so. Definitely worth a look.