Splinter (2008)
By: Mr Intolerance on April 30, 2010  | 
Icon | Region 4, PAL | 2.35:1 (16:9 enhanced) | English DD 5.1 | 79 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Toby Wilkins
Starring: Shea Whigham, Paulo Costanzo, Jill Wagner, Rachel Kerbs
Screenplay: Kai Barry, Ian Shorr, Toby Wilkins
Country: USA
External Links
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The basic story of Splinter is pretty simple (that's a good, refreshing thing, by the way): two couples meet in the boondocks, something Very Bad happens and then we spend a pretty darned tense hour or so locked in a convenience store while the Very Bad Thing tries to get in, and what's left of the couples veer between trying to escape and trying to keep the Very Bad Thing outside, to varying degrees of success.

Now look, before you start thinking that you've seen all that before (Night Of The Living Dead and the first two Evil Dead films spring pretty readily to mind as progenitors of this kind of film), let me tell you that you should let Splinter into your life because it takes a pretty hackneyed horror movie premise and (excuse the cliché) breathes new life into it – or should that rather be: gives it some new blood. And blood is something you'll be seeing a lot of in this film.

I was lucky enough to see Splinter as part of 2009's A Night Of Horror festival line up on the big screen, playing to a packed house of people who jumped, shrieked, and laughed at all of the appropriate moments, and I'm here to tell you that watching the film on the small screen at home didn't diminish the experience one bit.

The film's introduction, set at a convenience store in the middle of nowhere which we're going to become very familiar with, never gives the game away. Something bad happens to the cracker dude who runs the store, but the director cleverly keeps it indistinct – although unfortunately, he does so via shaky-cam and some hyper-kinetic editing. But it certainly sucks you in, let me tell you.

Armed criminal Dennis is on the lam, having prematurely checked out of the grey bar hotel, with his equally white-trash girlfriend Lacey. She's not in a good way, but Dennis thinks she's just jonesing for smack and that given enough time, she'll get over the hump. Turns out he's wrong, but more of that later. His own car having bit the dust, Dennis decides that car-jacking the SUV of nice couple Seth and Polly, whose aborted camping holiday to celebrate their anniversary just got a whole lot worse, would be a good idea in his efforts to get to Mexico, and away from the cops, who are keenly seeking him out.

Things do not get off to a flying start when the hijacked car runs over something that may or may not be Lacey's puppy Ginger, giving our happy little group a flat tyre – not something that dead puppies usually do to off-road vehicles. Mind you, dead puppies usually don't try to attack people trying to help them either. Something is most definitely amiss, and when Dennis is changing the tyre and pricks himself with a cruel looking splinter sticking out of the flat, the audience just knows that badness will ensue. The clue is in the title, folks!

Tyre changed and everybody weirded out, our crew make a forced stop at a certain convenience store/filling station due to an overheated radiator, that immediately has the audience saying, "Uh-oh". Dennis really doesn't have too much luck with cars, I guess. The store is deserted – or at least that's how it seems at first. Something seems to have…infected the store's attendant, warped and changed him somehow, like the almost unrecognisable mess that was Lacey's dead dog. Something to do with those splinters, just like the one Dennis was pricked with…

I'm going to leave you there – half-way through the film. Basically, because if I tell you any more, it'd spoil the experience for you, and I'd hate to do that. What you basically get is an unpredictable, mainly cliché-free siege-type scenario with things in and outside the store trying to kill – or maybe just infect – our heroes, who try some pretty ingenious methods to combat the bloodthirsty menace, with audience sympathies shifting among and between the characters, blood and grue by the bucket-load (but don't be expecting an over-the-top Jackson-esque splatterfest), and a remarkably nasty streak a mile wide that sets it apart from a lot of its contemporaries. And it doesn't spell things out for its audience, either – some of the characters try to work out what's going on, but there's no explanation given – is everything happening because of radioactivity? The nefarious plans of the government or big business? Aliens? I can't tell you, and I kind of like that. It's all up to you, folks.

Director Toby Wilkins has kicked a goal with Splinter and no mistake. It's violent and bloody as hell for the gorehounds, a reasonably unique creature design for the monster fans, tense, taut and claustrophobic enough for those who love a bit of atmosphere, some incidental humour to leaven things a little, and enough references to other films to show any real horror fan that this was made by someone with a real love for and understanding of the genre. I can't wait to see what he does next. Splinter is set up for a sequel, but I hope that's not Wilkins' next project – with a film this good, he deserves better. (While researching this review I discovered that Wilkins' next project as director was The Grudge 3 – oh well…)

And can I also say, hats off and pants down to Quantum Creation FX for their creature effects – with a lesser vision, Splinter would have suffered. It's nasty, bloody and uneasy – all in a good way, mind you! There's something terribly unsettling about the movement of the creatures particularly that adds to the sense of unease that permeates the last two-thirds of the film.
My main headache with the video here was with the "sped-up" action sequences – jump-cut editing of shaky-cam shots annoys me at the best of times, and to my mind it works against the impressive creature design here, annoyingly enough. That does lead me to the unpleasant realisation that maybe I'm not the target audience; this may have been aimed more fairly and squarely at the attention deficit disorder MTV generation. That aside, the anamorphic 2.35:1 transfer is fine, with a fairly rich colour palette, if somewhat garish – although that may also be attributed to the last two-thirds of the film being shot under fluorescent lights.
Certainly up to the task at hand. You definitely get lots of icky noises emphasised in the soundtrack when the spectacularly gooey moments of the film unleash themselves at the audience. Also, there are some quite unsettling non-diegetic sound effects that tend to keep the tension going throughout the film, and right from the get-go, too.
Extra Features
Nothing. This is pretty pathetic, considering the local Blu-ray comes with 2 audio commentaries and several behind-the-scenes featurettes. The absence of any of these is hardly recommending the Region 4 DVD to a canny consumer.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
Splinter might not be the most original horror film of the last five years, but it's certainly one of the most entertaining. It plays itself straight – the black comedy in the film is kind of incidental to what's happening – and that, to me, is one of its strengths. Gory, unflinching in some pretty nasty depictions of violence, and loving in its homages to creature features of the 50s as well as Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn, John Carpenter's The Thing and Night Of The Living Dead among others, Splinter shows that there is indeed still life in the old corpse that is horror cinema. Sure, maybe that corpse is picking it's own carcass clean for nourishment, but that still makes Splinter one of the tastiest feasts around, and in a time where bland re-makes and the extension of franchises that have lived well on beyond their use-by date are de rigueur, it'll more than do for the likes of this horror gourmand. Recommended fun.

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