Reviewed by Johnny Butane
Starring Shea Whigham, Paul Costanzo, Jill Wagner
Directed by Toby Wilkins
How odd is it that just the other day I was lamenting the fact that no one makes monster movies anymore, and then one just falls in my lap? Perhaps I should complain about how no one gives me millions of dollars anymore next…
Splinter is the feature-length debut from director Toby Wilkins, and I’m glad we’ll have this to show what the man can do after Ghost House does God only knows what to The Grudge 3, the next film he’s slated to direct. What we have with Splinter is a good old-fashioned isolation/siege story that never shies away from its roots and features fantastic creature effects. Ah, feels so good to type that!
We meet Seth (Costanzo) and his girlfriend Polly (Wagner) as they’re setting up for a weekend of camping, looking forward to having sex under the stars to celebrate their anniversary. Our first suspension of disbelief comes along when trying to see how a nerd like him could score a girl as hot as her, but their on-screen chemistry is so natural that before long you won’t even notice it.
Camping doesn’t exactly work out due to a tent malfunction. On their way to a motel, a girl stumbles out of the woods looking like she’s desperate for some form of aid, and unfortunately for all involved the couple decide to help her. They realize too late that this girl is actually the main squeeze of escaped convict Dennis (Whigham), who needs them as a ride to Mexico.
After some car troubles the quartet are forced to stop at a tiny gas station in the middle of nowhere, and that’s when things go from bad to much, much worse. Somewhere in the woods surrounding this place a parasite has developed, a creature that destroys whatever life form it can and assimilates it into itself, constantly growing as it adds new elements from its victims, and we humans look damn good to it. Their number now down to three, Seth, Polly and Dennis have to put aside their differences if anyone’s going to get out of their tiny prison alive.
All right, first some issues; its far too convenient that Seth just happens to have a PhD in Biology so is able to figure out relatively quickly how this creature operates and thus what they can do to fight it. It’s also a bit annoying that the one gas station they happen to find in the middle of nowhere has everything they need to survive. Finally, there’s the use of shaky cam … I don’t think I need to elaborate on how annoying that is.
But these are minor irritations and didn’t take away from my overall enjoyment (all right, the shaky cam did a bit) because Splinter is just a really fun movie from top to bottom.
The characters are convincingly authentic, and their individual reactions to this admittedly fucked-up situation only solidifies this realism. Wilkins was very smart in his casting choices, finding actors who could utilize their own nuances to elevate them beyond usual horror movie fodder. When you have people trapped in a confined space, their only choice is to work off of one another so it’s extremely important that they all work well together, and this trio nailed it perfectly.
The creature effects, all practical with only a few CG enhancements including one or two full-CG shots that are thankfully over very quickly, are excellent. There’s one scene in particular when a piece of someone’s hand is chasing our heroes around the gas station that looks amazing. The final creature, though we never get a really good look at it, is an impressive creation made up of all its victims with a very unique way of moving that enhances the monster’s unique otherness, as do the spikes that protrude all over its body, which it uses to infect new life forms. It’s just an all-around great monster creation, one you won’t likely forget anytime soon.
Much like the movie itself, actually. Splinter’s got all the elements that make for a great midnight movie, something horror fans will be telling one another about for weeks, maybe months, afterwards. There’s nothing groundbreaking here, but it’s smart enough to not try and pretend otherwise, embracing its inherent limitations and using them to its full advantage.
So now I got a good monster movie out of the way … just need to work on the millions of dollars…
4 out of 5
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American Psycho Meets Creep – Strawberry Flavored Plastic Review
Starring Aidan Bristow, Nicholas Urda, Andres Montejo
Directed by Colin Bemis
Recently I wrote up an article here on Dread Central which was basically an open letter to anyone who was listening called “I Miss Found Footage.” Well, it seems like someone WAS listening, as I was then sent the link to an all-new found footage film called Strawberry Flavored Plastic from first-time writer-director Colin Bemis.
The film follows the “still-at-large crimes of Noel, a repentant, classy and charming serial killer loose in the suburbs of New York.” Basically, you could think of the flick as American Psycho meets Mark Duplass and Partick Brice’s Creep. That, or you could think of it as “Man Bites Dog in color!” However you choose to label Colin Bemis’ psychological thriller, just make sure you check out the film once it hits in the future.
As I alluded to above, the film is basically a found footage version of American Psycho. But that said, the film sports a twist on the charming serial killer subgenre that I have yet to see play out in any of the above-mentioned classics. I’m not going to go into spoiler territory here, but I will say that the film introduces an element to the tale that spins it into much more of a character drama than a straight horror film. Not that there is anything wrong with that!
Truth be told, the film’s turn from serial killer flick into a layered character study might have been its kiss of death, but this slight genre switch is rendered a minor issue as the film’s central narcissistic antagonist is played by Aidan Bristow. Bristow is an actor you may not have heard of before this review, but you will hear his name more and more over the years to come, I promise. The guy gives (no pun intended) a killer performance as the film’s resident serial killer Noel Rose, and time after time surprised me with how chilling, charming, or downright vulnerable he chose to play any given scene.
Bristow’s performance is, in the end, the major element the film has going for it. But that said, as a fan of found footage, I was smiling ear to ear at first-time director Colin Bemis’ understanding of what makes a found footage suspense sequence work.
In Strawberry Flavored Plastic director Colin Bemis is confident and content to allow full emotional scenes to play out with the camera directed at nothing more than a character’s knees. Why is this so important? Because it keeps the reality of the film going. Too many found footage directors would focus on the actors’ faces during such emotional scenes – no matter how contrived the camera angle was. In this film, however, Bemis favors the reality that says, “If you were really in this emotional state and holding a camera, you would let it drop to your side.” I agree, and it is small touches like that which make the film feel authentic and thus – once the shite hits the fan – all the scarier.
On the dull side of the kitchen knife, the film does feel a bit long even given it’s short running time, and there doesn’t seem too much in the way of visceral horror to be found within. Again, graphic blood and gore aren’t a must in a fright flick, but a tad more of the old ultra-violence would have gone a long way in selling our main psychopath’s insanity and unpredictability. But all the same, the film does feature a rather shocking sequence where our main baddie performs a brutal home invasion/murder that puts this film firmly in the realm of horror. In fact, the particular POV home invasion scene I’m talking about holds about as much horror as you’ll ever wish to witness.
In the end, Colin Bemis’ Strawberry Flavored Plastic is a must-see for fans of found footage and serial killer studies such as American Pyscho, Creep, and Man Bites Dog. I recommend giving it a watch once it premieres. If only to be able to point to Aidan Bristow in the near future and tell all your friends that you watched (one of) his first movies.
Lead actor Aidan Bristow turns in a star-making performance in Colin Bemis’ Strawberry Flavored Plastic, a found footage film that plays out like Man Bites Dog in Color before introducing a new element to the charming-serial-killer subgenre and becoming more character study than a straight horror. Think American Psycho meets Creep.
Who Goes There Podcast: Ep 148 – Inside (2017 Remake)
We’ve all heard the old saying, “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Well, I’m here to tell you that’s only partially true. It seems there is a third certainty that had been omitted from the original quote, “It is certain, if you enjoy a movie, at some point someone will remake that movie.” Now is the time when one of my favorite movies gets reimagined, “for an American audience”.
In the late 2000’s an explosion of “French extreme” horror films was released. Martyrs and or High Tension can often be found on any number of lists of the “most fucked up horror movies ever”. Unfortunately, the vastly superior Inside is often forgotten (as well as Frontier(s), but that’s a whole ‘nother rant). Now, ten years after it’s initial release, Inside has been Americanized. Don’t worry, we watched it so you don’t have to. You’re welcome.
Mommy says you’re not dead. Is that true? It’s the Who Goes There Podcast episode 148!
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Totem Review – It’s Not Always A Bad Thing To Look Up From The Bottom Level, If You Like That View
Starring Kerris Dorsey, James Tupper, Ahna O’Reilly
Directed by Marcel Sarmiento
Following the untimely death of a family’s matriarchal figure, a young woman finds out that managing to hold all of the pieces in place becomes increasingly more difficult when otherworldly infiltrators make their presence felt. We’re going to have to work our way up this Totem, as
17 year old Kellie is the leading lady of the home following the passing of her mother Lexy, and with a needy father and tiny tot of a baby sister, she still keeps things in working order, regardless of the rather large hole that’s been left in the dynamic due to the death. Kellie’s dad after a while decides to ask his lady-friend to move in with the family, so that everyone can move onto a more peaceful existence…yeah, because those types of instances always seem to work seamlessly. As fate would have it, Kellie’s sense of pride is now taking a beating with the new woman in the mix, and her little sister’s new “visitor” is even more disturbed by this intruder – only question is, exactly who is this supernatural pal of sorts? Is it the spirit of their dead mother standing by to keep watch over the family, or is it something that’s found its way to this group, and has much more evil intentions at hand?
What works here is the context of something innately malicious that has found its way into the home – there are only a couple moments that come off as unsettling, but the notion of having to weave through more than half the film acting as a sullen-teen drama is rather painful. The presentation of the “broken family” is one that’s been done to death, and with better results overall, and that’s not to say that the movie is a complete loss, it just takes far too much weeding through at times stale performances and even more stagnant pacing to get to a moderately decent late-stage conclusion to the film. Under the direction of Marcel Sarmiento (Deadgirl), I’d truly hoped for something a bit more along the lines of a disturbing project such as that one, but the only thing disturbing was the time I’d invested in checking this one out. My best advice is to tune into the Lifetime channel if you want a sulky teen-melodrama with a tinge of horror, or you could simply jump into this one and work your way up…but it’s a LONG way to the top.
Sulky, moody, and ridden with teen-angst buried in the middle of a supernatural mystery – SOUNDS like a decent premise, doesn’t it?
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