Magnolia Pictures // 2008 // 82 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // April 24th, 2009
It will get under your skin.
As the sophistication of technology grows alongside medical knowledge, we are less and less sure about our bodies. It might seem like a paradox, but ignorance, not knowledge, produces certainty. For instance, many of us grow up with the idea that letting microorganisms into our bodies is bad, but research is frequently showing that it's nowhere near that simple, and certain types and ratios of microorganisms substantially improve our lives. This increasing lack of certitude about our bodies and their relationship to nature and technology contributes enormously to modern horror, with all manner of twisted monsters having their roots in anxiety towards the body. One such film is Splinter which manages to successfully combine infection anxiety with what amounts to zombies. Although not quite reaching classic status, Splinter is a worthy entry into the modern horror canon and viewers can't go wrong with this loaded Blu-ray of the flick.
Seth (Paulo Costanzo, Road Trip) and Polly (Jill Wagner, Blade: The Series) are a young couple who decide to spend their anniversary camping. When their tent breaks, the two decide to head to the nearest sleazy motel to celebrate their love in front of free cable TV. However, the couple passes Lacey (Rachel Kerbs), a young woman who looks distressed. When the couple stops, Dennis (Shea Whigham, Fast & Furious) appears at their side with a gun, insisting that the couple drive the two drifters to the nearest town. While heading to their destination, Polly strikes an animal in the road, causing a flat tire. While fixing the flat, Dennis gets a strange splinter in his finger, and Lacey realizes that the mangled animal (which should be dead) is still moving. The two couples leave in a hurry, but the car's engine overheats, leaving them stranded at a gas station. Lacey decides to use the restroom while the rest go inside the station. In the bathroom she discovers the station's attendant, horribly disfigured and begging to be killed. Lacey is attacked and appears to be dead, but then revives as a violent monster. The remaining three are trapped in the station, where they must figure out what's after them and why.
If you've read the plot description, it would be easy to write off Splinter as another copycat film. However, the film gets too many things right to languish in obscurity.
* It's darn well-made. The film is well-edited, with a consistent visual style that shows time and attention to lighting, tone, and color palette. The acting is all up to snuff, with strong performance from the three station-bound leads. Finally, the special effects, especially the ones for the monster, are very well done. We see enough of it to be scared, but not so much that it loses all its mystery. We also never see enough of the scary stuff to let the seams of the budget show.
* Speaking of the monster, the film thankfully avoids any superficial explanation of the creature. Instead, it's all killing, all the time. Sure, those under siege throw out some possibilities, but the film doesn't waste time giving us some kind of xeno- or cryptobiologist who explains the creature before being brutally killed. This keeps the film pure and simple: it's about three people trying to survive an unknown horror, not about learning more about some crazy killing machine.
* The film also gets its violence right. Too often horror films either wimp out, PG-13 style, or get a little overzealous like "torture porn." Splinter sits comfortably in the middle. There's enough inventive red stuff to keep gore fans happy, but not so much that the film risks anyone puking. So, while there's some neat violence in Splinter (including a rather nice amputation-by-utility-knife), no one is going to mistake it for a Saw or Hostel sequel.
* The film has a good "villain." Dennis is obviously not a nice guy, taking people hostage and all, but the film handles his character well. So many horror film scribes forget that villains rarely think themselves evil, so crafting a completely brutal and unsympathetic abuser is pointless. By the same token, it's also entirely too easy to create a Robin Hood style villain-with-a-heart-of-gold who only seems bad before the inevitable revelation of his tortured path towards redemption. Dennis avoids either extreme, coming off as someone you might not want to have a beer with, but someone you can respect. His actions throughout the film genuinely seem to come out of his character instead of plot necessity, and it's an interesting journey to watch Shea Whigham make.
Fans of Splinter really couldn't ask for more than this Blu-ray disc. The video looks surprisingly good for a film that doesn't appear to have the highest budget. I didn't see any compression artifacts or other technical difficulties, and the (digital) source for the transfer looks pristine. The audio didn't blow me away, but dialogue was clear and audible, while the effects were well-placed for maximum fright impact.
The extras on this set are equally impressive. Two different commentaries are offered during the feature, one with the director and the cast, the other with director and the crew. These are the place to go for most production info, as the participants are comfortable and talkative. There are also seven different (short) featurettes that cover everything from sets to special effects, including an HDNet promo. Finally, there's a creature concept gallery.
Splinter is head and shoulders above the vast majority of horror that gets released these days, and I look forward to the next film of Toby Wilkins. However, Splinter just doesn't seem to resonate with me. While I enjoyed it, and I think others should certainly see it, it's not a film I'm going to proselytize or watch again any time in the near future.
Splinter achieves exactly what it sets out to do: provide a fast-paced creature feature full of tension and violence. If that sounds like your idea of fun, then Splinter is worth a rental at minimum, and fans of the film will be well served by this Blu-ray presentation.
Guilty of getting under my skin.
Review content copyright © 2009 Gordon Sullivan; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 82 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Art Gallery