Splinter, 2008

© Magnolia Pictures

It’s okay, it’s okay, we’re cutting your arm off.

Polly Watt (Jill Wagner)

An underdog, Splinter is not financed like those other big-ticket horror films that show items off their shopping list more than blood or a decent scare. Even then, Splinter packs enough punch to actually scare the audience with its creature, the splinterbeast; a true hand-to-heart monster that comes out of nowhere, and a few beats later the whole damn place is crawling with the ugly and very dangerous organism. It reminded me of the films of David Cronenberg, especially his film Shivers, 1975, when the bodies start to transform in a very disco/robot dance way.  

Splinter has managed to accomplish a feat that other recent creature-features pale in comparison and it stands out from the rest of the bunch. Crafting a monster without any shape or form until one or more of the unlucky performers becomes the host by the creature’s splinter protrusions, is not as traditional as making a real guy wear a costume and make him jump out of shadows to scare the bejesus outta the audience members. Once a splinter has embedded itself in living tissue it spreads through the host body until it has taken full control of the organism, like the unlucky cop.

Courtesy © Magnolia Pictures

Rather, the director Toby Wilkins (The Grudge 3, 2009) and the guys from the creature-design area have done a stupefying job of creating something that genuinely gives keen viewers the creeps. Even a slight glimpse of the creature on the roof, waiting to jump on an unsuspecting victim/host scares plenty, and the anticipation, the art direction by Thomas Spence, the time it takes from the slow stalking (full points to the sound design, visual effects, and the SFX department), the crackling-snap and hiss, as if a crab is running across the concrete, the parasitic organism looking for hosts at a confined, abandoned place without any means to speak to the world outside of the damned gas station, the capacity of the creature to attack and adapt without adhering to any permanent physical limitations or constraints and all of it very suddenly, make Splinter a genuinely terrifying creature feature horror film. And it also makes it one of the most powerful horror films that this mountain-man has watched in a long time.

The organism in the film is simply brilliant, something like how Carpenter and Rob Bottin scared us back in the day with The Thing, 1982, and also Bong Joon-ho (Parasite, 2019) and his 2006 feature, The Host: those are some of the best creatures that have had us biting our nails and sometimes doubt ourselves in the past, and the creature from Splinter is right up there with those two and that is extremely impressive and stands out in a clutter of horror films that fail miserably and end up making us laugh or bored. Here, the splinterbeast is terrifying and disgusting with its rotten corpse aesthetic. Plus n amputation scene had me cringing, flinching, wincing as if someone ran nails across the blackboard.

It hides in the shadows and shows up when least expected and then there are those sequences when the trio trapped in the gas station begin to realize that this is a nontraditional beast (a realization that the audience has made a few film minutes before) they are dealing with and will have to come up with unconventional methods to beat it and survive, for these are unorthodox adversaries that aren’t somewhat humanized in one way or another; even when they’ve taken over a human body and made a host out of it. The filmmakers have taken a very popular concept and have somehow turned it on its head, with plenty of gore, limbs snapping on their own, bones becoming brittle and breaking at the slightest touch,

You gotta show them that you’re really not scared
You’re playin’ with your life, this ain’t no truth or dare

– Beat It 🙂

Splinter is an extremely compelling film and does what it is supposed to, through extremely inventive scares, a plot so tense that sometimes you just wanna pause, pop a few OTC and continue. However, the smash, strobe-edits, and a few other choices made by Wilkins and editor David Michael Maurer obscure the monster, and not actively.
It starts slow but puts the shift into second and floors the accelator, making it look like Warrant Officer Ripley just stepped into the power loader and demanded the “bitch to stay away“. It is all very entertaining and truly frightening

With brilliant performances by Shea Whigham, Paulo Costanzo, and Jill Wagner, the film seems to have a life of its own, the dynamics of the chemistry between the actors is such, although, again, with unconventional roots, each of our characters has strengths and weaknesses that complement the others. Whereas the latter has all the potential to fall flat on its face, here the dedicated performances and the relatability to the characters make Splinter all the more capable and mighty creepy. The performance by Whigham makes this one a good old-fashioned tale of man versus monster. He is the one with a tragic backstory and a bizarre sense of honor that accentuates the hero aspects of his anti-hero persona. Whigham was introduced to us as a bad guy, however after having made to survive through the gamut of cocky, endearing, heroic, villainous, and a million other qualities throughout the film, the bad guy is the one on whose shoulders the film is now beginning to rest. That is until the hand is severed and the antagonistic in him simply starts to walk an honorable path.  

Cinematographer Nelson Cragg masterfully embellishes the landscape with warm colors as the picture starts, the horizon is ravishing and the scenery is gorgeous, this is all in preparation for the descent into imminent hell. Making the viewers feel at ease and settle themselves in their seats only to start shifting (not with jump scares, quite the contrary) moments later, when the countryside is splattered with blood when the glass has blood prints being dragged downwards, it’s fucking high octane, muscle tearing, monster mayhem, with a pretty convincing little bastard as the monster moving about in the confines the small, claustrophobic gas station, where the three have taken refuge. This really adds a raging, maddening, and a deadly aspect to the film. Imagine a freight train of all past movie monsters headed in your direction and you may imagine the mythos of Splinter, a solid, efficient, disgusting, disturbing, and smart horror movie.  

However, for me, the girlfriend, actor Jill Wagner as Polly Watt in a sexy tank-top, is the most important component of the film after Wingham, who it seems keep the trio from falling apart but it is the heroics of Wagner’s character that saves a large part of the day or night. She is lovely to look at and her character gives the thorny script some thorn cutters and stem-strippers. 

“Last Chance Gas”

A year older than I, Wagner – it seems – is trapped in an idiot box. Pity, yet comforting for reasons only Toby Wilkins may know. Still, he manages to make a film, which is a fast-paced, fun thriller, with well-timed humor and a script that supersedes genre convention by having its characters do smart things instead of stupid ones. 

I loved it, this film and the filmmakers have my full attention and respect. So does the parasite hosting creatures and that other beautiful creature in a tank-top and rage that would tear apart the skies.

A must watch

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