Sunday, August 1, 2010

When a really big pair of tweezers still isn’t enough...

I swear I’m not reviewing this film simply because I’ve had a mini splinter at the bottom of my foot for a week now. It’s just a coincidence. I am not going to transform into a gooey non-zombie pent on infecting you. Probably not.

Quick Plot: A young couple attempt to celebrate their anniversary under the stars, but plans are thwarted when they discover (bom bom bommmmmm!) they don’t know how to set up a tent! Things only get worse when they’re held up at gunpoint by a pair of fugitive lovebirds heading for a gas station to refuel and eat crackers. Worse becomes worst when the newly formed quartet gets attacked by a few misshapen corpses animated by practical effects and a mysterious parasite.

Set almost entirely in and around an empty gas station convenience store, Splinter is not a film founded on grand ambitions. The cast is small, kills are limited, and explanation never given. For some movies, this generally spells out forgettable mediocrity. Splinter, however, is genuinely good, perhaps because of its very smallness. 
With just four primary characters, we’re never distracted identifying and dismissing token victims or half-heartedly investing in the doomed. Similarly, the two couples are a little more three dimensional than your average pretty people in peril. Within a half hour, we understand the reversed gender politics of Polly and Seth’s relationship and learn to anticipate how they’ll deal with the growing danger around them. While that shouldn’t be such a unique feature for any film, it does stand out in a genre typically populated by dead teenagers, horndog coeds, and paper doll couples.
The other notable feature of Splinter is the style of the special effects, all practical and rather neat. Filmmaker Toby Wilkins gives Splinter an almost Stuart Gordon-esque effect with running hands and loose-limbed reanimated corpses on the prowl. It’s not always scary, but it sure is fun to watch.

High Points
Though the central romantic relationship is refreshing and well-done, but it’s Shea Whigham’s turn as Dennis, a conflicted criminal that really makes us care about the story

Low Points
Some of the more violent attacks--particularly an early scene involving a major character--are unfortunately cut too quickly and shot too dark. It’s a shame that we don’t get to actually SEE all the mayhem.
Lessons Learned
Before going camping, make sure that at least one member of your party actually knows what to do with a tent.
Gun-toting criminals dig firecrackers (in more ways than one)
Police cars do not start without a key. Fancy that!
Splinter is an easy recommendation for a rental, though its small scale may not necessarily warrant a lot of repeat viewings. The DVD includes a few special features worth investigating, so throwing a few dollars its way won’t necessarily be a regret. So far, all director Toby Wilkins has added to his resume is the unseen (by me and I imagine many others) third Grudge film, but I’ll keep my eye out for his future work in the hopes that he continues to develop his style.


  1. If I get the chance, I'll check this out on your rec. The zombie / reanimated corpse deal closes the deal.

    However, I also cannot set up a tent. I can identify.

  2. Heard about this one a while ago. Some of my friends recommended it to me, said it was really good. While I'm not sure about that, I can easily bet that it's entertaining. Looking forward to watching it.

  3. Zed, I can barely put together a sandwich, much less tent, but that's why I don't go camping. And yes, this is definitely something of a zombie film, although more in a sort of Stuart Gordon way than traditional shamblers. I look forward to hearing your take on it.

    Atroxion: It's not a masterpiece, but it's quite solid and a nice practical effects throwback that bucks the CGI trend pretty nicely.

  4. I liked this one a lot as a simple monster flick. You're right about the quick cuts and darkness too, I wanted a little more carnage. Good stuff.

  5. This one was definitely a sleeper hit IMO. I saw it the same night I saw Robert Hall's 'Laid to Rest' (another great film) and it really surprised me.

    I assumed that it would be just another Syfy throwaway, but the characterization is well-written and offers up some neat special effects.

  6. You know, I'm mixed. Unfortunately, some idiot started a rumor about how similar this is to "The Thing", so I checked it out with somewhat inflated hopes.

    But yeah, it was decent. I enjoyed it while it was on.

    People just gotta stop saying anything is similar to The Thing. Just stop it. You're ruining movies for me.

  7. You know this might not be the greatest thing since bread came sliced, but I can't help but love a horror movie just a little, in which the heroes get in trouble by NOT camping in a desolate wasteland.

  8. TheMike: I know! I hate the fairly new trend of making everything really fast and dark. It makes me feel old for not being able to see anything. I've been waving my walker around i exasperation but no one seems to care.

    Strange Kid: I heard mixed things about Laid to Rest, but I trust your judgment to add it to the queue. And on Splinter, it definitely looks a little like a SyFy original, especially in those early scenes with the main couple, but kudos to the film for spreading out and doing some strong things with its characters.

    Kangas: A lot of the effects definitely called back to The Thing, but it didn't distract me too much. In no way does this come close to matching it--I actually felt more of a Stuart Gordon vibe than a John Carpenter, but I also couldn't see a lot so who the hell knows.

    Bryce: It's sad when we start giving bonus points to any film not set in the desert wilderness or a grungy warehouse, but it's the little things that count sometimes.

  9. This was on my radar for awhile and for some reason fell off. Wills bes checking this out fo rizzle dizzle.

    P.S. check your email

  10. Though we often disagree about some of the newer stuff, I do think Splinter is right up your alley. I look forward to checking out yo drizzle.

    And P.S. Check YOUR email. Snap.

  11. I agree with you about the quick edits...I loved the style of the body horror in Splinter and wanted to see it happen too. Still, I really enjoyed it and as it goes along, it gets better and better, which has a lot to do with the characters.

    P.S. Check your email.

    Actually, don't, I just wanted to be part of the P.S. fun! Sorry.

  12. You could have turned the brightness of your TV up a little if it was that dark for you. Just saying.

    I enjoyed this one a lot too. I even exchanged a couple of messages with Toby Wilkins about maybe doing an interview with him. He agreed but I had to go through his agent (hope I got that right anyway) in order to get it going. She would only let me send one set of questions to her, which she would then pass on to Toby. I tried talking my way into follow up questions, since it is hard to ask a bunch of questions when you don't know what the answers will be as you go along, but it was a no go. One set of questions and that was it. So it sorta fell through.

  13. It's not just that the film is dark, Heather: it's the overly edited scenes of violence that really do make it impossible to make out what's happening to who. Or maybe I'm just old.

    Bummer about the interview! Email interviews generally require those followups since you don't have the luxury of changing courses during the actual discussion. Grr. Wilkins does seem like a director to watch based on Splinter alone. I really hope he gets to work on another original horror soon.

    And Matt, you remain such a tease.