Splinter, an independent horror film that’s been getting a serious amount of buzz lately, deserves every bit of the flurry of interest it’s creating and then some. Sure, it owes A LOT to its forefathers, most notably John Carpenter’s The Thing, ALIEN, and even to a lesser extent, Tremors, but that doesn’t mean that Splinter can’t stand on its own two parasite infected legs. Toby Wilkins (who oddly enough is also directing The Grudge 3, god bless him in trying to resurrect that piece of shit horror series) has made something from nothing here. That’s right folks, this is not a sequel, it’s not a remake or re-imagining of an Asian film, and it’s really clever, fast-paced, and surprising in ways I had forgotten horror films can be.
Our plot is familiar, a couple goes away on a camping trip alone in the woods in the back country, the tent doesn’t work and snaps, and of course they forgot to pack the spare. So back in the SUV they go, and while driving to a motel, they are confronted by two hitchhikers, who are actually criminals on the run from the law. The criminals take over the vehicle, but keep the couple as hostages, more or less.
The Flat tire seems to be the next logical step, but it’s WHAT they hit that is interesting, and before they know it they are at a gas station, trying to fix the now very fucked up SUV, when all hell breaks loose.
It’s not groundbreaking, and the “boo” scares aren’t going to make you shit your pants, but it’s all so well executed and framed, that it’s really easy to just slip into the atmosphere and the setting. I quickly allowed myself to get over the fact that I’ve seen this done before, mostly because I haven’t seen it done THIS WELL before.
The cast, made up mostly of four characters, are excellent. Shea Whigham really stands out here as someone who could easily handle a starring role in a major movie, as he plays the hardened criminal who has an amazing story to tell. His transformation in the film is subtle, but magical. It’s rare that ANY character development takes places in horror movies now a days, and to have one as profound and jaw-dropping as this, really elevates the movie above the “Creature Feature” title I was thinking of giving it.
Monster design is, for the most part, also somewhat subtle, but it’s also very detailed. I won’t ruin any of the surprise, but think along the lines of The Thing and the monsters from the recently released video game Dead Space and your on the right track. Toby Wilkins fast editing and mild shaky camera manage to strike a balance between showing off the almost CGI less creature, and creating tension and panic visually. I usually hate shaky cam, but it really works well here. Sound is also very crisp and can be piercing at the right moments. In tandem with the visual style, the technical package delivered here is very robust and professional.
Lastly, I MUST congratulate the writers, Kai Berry, Ian Shorr, and Toby Wilkins. Not only did they manage to include some clever nods to the films that obviously inspired them (The hand gag from Evil Dead 2 makes a not-so-funny appearance here) but also have written some of the most likable and realistic characters I’ve seen in horror in quite some time. Never do the characters do the classic “dumb” thing and get themselves killed, and the dialogue is too the point and refreshing, all the while never insulting my intelligence. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been broken away from the mood by some teenage jerk in horror flicks talking about a girls boobs while their best friend gets his guts spilled out by a monster.
Splinter is about as lean, mean, and streamlined as modern horror is going to get. It wastes little time, keeps you involved with refreshingly smart heroes and villains, and is presented with so much piss and vigor, it’s really difficult not to fall in love with something in this movie.
Get Splintered today.