Terrifying Tuesday Gets Stuck By Splinter (2008)

Contrary to popular belief Splinter (2008) is not a biopic about a humanoid rat that teaches mutated adolescent turtles to perform feats of martial arts while munching on pizza. Instead it’s something quite different. This film was completely off my radar until a friend of mine who is a casual horror fan told me it was really good and recommended I check it out. I approached the flick with a degree of skepticism. It featured an unknown cast; a director whose highest profile gig was Tales of the Grudge, and a story that sounded all too familiar. No one was more surprised than me when it actually did turn out to be quite good.

Splinter opens with a gas station attendant being attacked by a briefly seen spiky force, and then we are brought over to meet our four main characters. Seth and Polly (Paulo Costanzo and Jill Wagner) are a young couple attempting to camp out under the stars to celebrate their anniversary. Their plans go awry when Seth, a biologist more accustomed to reading about nature than being in it, breaks their tent. With no other choice, the pair head out to find a motel. On their way they are flagged down by a bedraggled girl waiting on the side of the road. Ignoring Seth’s objections, Polly pulls the car over and soon finds out she should have listened when they are carjacked by escaped convict Dennis (Shea Whigham) and his girlfriend Lacey (Rachel Kerbs).

Dennis demands they drive, but they soon have tragedy strike again when first their tire goes flat and then the car overheats. Pulling into a gas station, they find it to be abandoned, but when Lacey goes to the bathroom she finds the attendant on the floor with large black spikes protruding from his body. Lacey comes to get help, but the attendant, whose body is hideously distorted, follows her around the building and attacks her, killing her instantly. The remaining trio holes up in the gas station and quickly learns that they are under attack from some strange kind of parasite that transforms its victims into zombie like shells intent on eating anything, or should I say anyone, that it catches.

Like I mentioned earlier director Toby Wilkins is not a director with a very long resume. Along with the aforementioned Tales of the Grudge, Wilkins has directed two other features, 2005’s Staring at the Sun and 2009’s direct to DVD Grudge 3, as well a quite few short films, but his stock and trade is working on title sequences for movies such as Scooby Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed and Rush Hour 2. I suppose it goes without saying that both the beginning and end credits of Splinter are quite good. Wilkins really shows a lot of promise with this flick as both the pacing and feel of the film are quite good. Running only 82 minutes, Wilkins keeps the story right on track at all times, and working with cinematographer Nelson Cragg (Boogeyman 2), he even manages to make shaky cam work in the context of the film.

These moments of shaky cam occur when the creature is coming to get people, and it worked for me because the rest of the film had a calm fluid style to it. These stuttery shots enhance the wonderful creature effects from Ozzy Alvarez (The Happening, Van Helsing). While you get many lingering shots in Splinter of parts of the creature, the full view of it is obscured until the final moments. It gave the scenes a realistic feeling as if they were point of view shots. After all, if you were running away from a once human lump of flesh that wants to eat you and infect you with a parasite, the chances are you would not stop to get a good long look at it. Coupled with the camera work and creature effects, the score by Elia Cmiral (Stigmata, Wrong Turn) adds to the build of the film enhancing the tense build of the onscreen action.

When a film only sports six total characters (with two of them having screen time totaling less than a minute), you’ve really left your film in the hands of a small number of actors. If any one of them put in a sub-par performance then the film would have suffered greatly for it. Thankfully, that was not the case here. Usually I can’t separate the actors from the characters, but this group really made me believe they were the people they were portraying. Paulo Costanzo’s Seth looked a bit like if Screech from Saved by the Bell had not grown up to be Dustin Diamond, but instead a well adjusted human being. He looks brainy enough to be a Phd in Biology and acts it without ever making the audience feel like he’s only there for scientific exposition. Fans of movies that are really “so bad that they’re good” may remember him, as Alexander Cabot from Josie and the Pussycats, but as of recent months he’s been playing the second lead on TV’s Royal Pains.

Jill Wagner has barely been in anything (unless you count 12 episodes of Blade: The Series) and it’s a real shame because she had a very natural presence on the screen, and she definitely lived up to being called a “firecracker” by one of the other characters. Costanzo and Wagner also exhibited some great chemistry and I would be very happy to see them paired up again in a similar film.

The other two characters are of course Dennis played by Shea Whigham and his girlfriend Lacey by Rachel Kerbs. Kerbs has the shortest time on the screen of the main four characters, but she manages to impress in a small role that is very obviously meant to be the first victim. Her character is supposed to be coming off of drugs and Kerbs really sells it. I mean this girl really looks like shit. This is her first credited role, but she’s a name I will definitely be keeping my eye out for in the future. Likewise I will want to know much more about Shea Whigham. Dennis’ character has the best story arc in the film moving from ruthless criminal to self sacrificing hero over the course of 80 minutes. It was quite remarkable to pay attention to the subtle changes he made in the speech patterns and body language of his character as the film wore on. This is the second great role I’ve seen Whigham in in the last few week. It wasn’t that long back that the Ladies of the Lair checked out Wristcutters: A Love Story, and Whigham was nearly unrecognizable as Eugene in that film. Looking into his future, it seems he has landed a role in Walter Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, and while I am skeptical of the film as a whole, his presence almost piques my interest a bit.

I honestly have no idea what kind of release Splinter got, but had I seen it last year it would have easily taken a spot on my best of ’08 list. Sure the plot is a bit overdone, but usually the small band of survivors trapped in a place are fighting off zombies. The parasitic nature of the creature is well more than enough to make this film feel like a break from the formula. Check Splinter out folks, but be prepared to feel like you want to wear a head-to-toe Kevlar suit when you leave home the next day.

Bugg Rating

1 comment:

  1. Agreed, a fun take on the NotLD scenario that is played out well with enough new elements and gore to keep it moving at a fast pace. Good call on this one Bug!


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