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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