From director Toby Wilkins, Splinter is the little horror movie that could. I love little horror films. Generally, filmmakers who are starting out or would otherwise never get a shot behind the camera end up helming horror flicks. It’s like a film rite of passage. Why horror took on this mantra, I have no idea. All I know is, thank goodness it wasn’t rom-coms. What a horrible universe it would truly be if Wes Craven was known for starting out as the director of The Last House on the Left, a movie about a young girl who finds herself in a love triangle with some lovable rogues from the big city. Or if John Carpenter changed the face of emotionally powerful family pictures with Halloween, the story of young Laurie Strode reuniting with her long-lost brother after a family tragedy separated the two on Halloween night, many years before. Or if Sam Raimi was the legendary director of Good Living, about two couples who discover the true meaning of love and sharing while vacationing at a rustic cabin in the woods. Blecchh!!
This is America, dammit. We want horror films, not any of that pansy crap. We want blood, mutilations, screaming, more blood, and if we’re really digging at the bottom of the barrel, some gratuitous nudity.
More than anything, I think the main reason horror is a nifty genre for small pictures is because filmmakers can get away with having a small cast and a limited number of locations. In short, a small horror flick won’t bust the bank.
This small horror flick is about a couple, Seth and Polly (Paulo Costanzo and Jill Wagner), who decide to celebrate their anniversary by camping in the middle of nowhere. Unluckily for them, they cross paths with another couple, Dennis and Lacey (Shea Whigham and Rachel Kerbs). Those two aren’t celebrating anything. They’re on the run from the law, and they take poor Seth and Polly hostage, forcing them to drive the fugitives to Mexico. But fate intervenes in the form of a leaky radiator, and the foursome are forced to stop at a gas station, still in the middle of nowhere. Unfortunately, the lone gas station attendant has been infected with something, and he sets in motion a zombie/siege plot where the small group has to barricade themselves inside the station.
Zombies is kind of an unfair description of Splinter’s monsters. Those who are infected, by whatever it is, chase after those who aren’t, and a bite will spell certain doom, but these aren’t the undead. They’re...different, in a way that kind of defies explanation. The twists and turns those poor souls’ bodies take on when they monsterify [sic] is a bit reminiscent of what viewers saw in The Thing, but even more disgusting, if that’s possible. These gross figures are slathered with darkly colored blood and thick ooze the color of India ink.
That’s about all the detail I could pick up from them, because Splinter is filmed with a shaky camera, and that simple description doesn’t capture just how much the camera was moving around. Picture The Hurt Locker and any found footage horror flick having a love child, and that dreadful movie will look like it was filmed with a Steadicam compared to Splinter. Combine the shakiness with the large number of quick cuts, and I suspect that Mr. Wilkins may have been a little bit concerned about how the creature effects would look on camera.
Other than that, though, Splinter is not a bad film. Everyone in the cast knows how to act. Whigham gave the standout performance in the film; nothing Oscar-worthy, but there’s a reason the guy gets work. There’s a fair amount of genre clichés, but it’s balanced out by some effective moments of tension. I’m not sure this movie could click with a general audience, but for horror enthusiasts, it’s a good one.