British visual effects man Toby Wilkins had made a series of short films between 2000-2006, but Splinter marks his feature-length debut using a very simple tale of essentially four characters – a couple taken hostage by a convicted felon, and a parasitic ‘thing’ (aka ‘the splinter’) – duking it out overnight at an isolated gas station in the American South.
Wilkins and co-writers Kai Barry and Ian Shorr do a nice job introducing small bits of weirdness before the parasite claims the felon’s heroin-addicted girlfriend, and a good chunk of the film has the three survivors trying to understand the splinter’s behavioural traits in order to map out some plan of escape.
What’s established early into the film is that local critters are infected – making a midnight walk down the highway a very bad idea – and once the splinter starts assimilating itself using other infected hunks of human cadavers (yes, it does borrow from John Carpenter’s The Thing, as well as George Cosmatos’ Leviathan) it starts to move real fast, and uses the sharp splinters sprouting from skin like a motorized filleting knife. That means the trio have no choice but to stay indoors, although that becomes a problem when severed splinter pieces have the ability to move and track prey on their own.
The most intriguing and grotesque aspect of the splinter has the infected appendage – say, an arm – moving of its own accord, breaking internal bones if necessary to motivate the host to get closer to some human or critter food. The scriptwriters also take a cue from standard fifties sci-fi flicks and make one character the token scientist, bestowing the egghead with enough biology know-how so the group can find a few methods of keeping the splinters away for a while. (One revelation will undoubtedly make viewers think the best decision is to stay put, but that of course would stop the movie dead.)
The gore is often seen in fast cuts, but it’s pretty disgusting, and one sequence is cringe-inducing for the details and prolonged agony. Wilkins’ direction, however, is quite traditional: he likes using the wide ‘scope ratio to convey loneliness and isolation, and fast edits are balanced with unstylized shots that allow the decent cast to react more naturally. There are plenty of opportunities to play with ratcheted frame rates, so it’s nice to see a director who recognizes held shots can be just as unsettling as a montage of fast edits and shakycam footage.
The film’s sound design incorporates lots of wet and sharp sound effects, and Elia Cmiral’s score sticks with impressionistic, fuzzed-up sounds rather than any straight theme (although the main title music, as well as the title design, bear a strong resemblance to the opening of Jonathan Mostow’s Breakdown).
Splinter is a perfect little late night shocker, and quite reminiscent of the old Universal-International B-movies about an alien contagion or invader that has the potential to wipe out humanity. (The Monolith Monsters kind of comes to mind.) The main difference is that on a Wet Meter, Splinter scores a solid 9.
© 2008 Mark R. Hasan