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Old 04-20-2009, 05:32 PM
Splinter (2008)



Forgive me for being wary about partaking in the Splinter Kool-Aid. Word of this horror movie's purported awesomeness had been spreading for a while before its release, though its true merit remained a tad dubious. It's no secret that horror churns out some of the crummiest movies ever on a consistent basis, so when something that's actually good comes along, the ensuing fan frenzy kicks the hype machine into overdrive. I hate to burst the bubble of any expectant gorehounds when I say that Splinter isn't anything you haven't already seen, but that doesn't mean this modest creature feature is any less worthy of popping in for a few good thrills.

Seth (Paulo Costanzo) and Polly (Jill Wagner) are a picture-perfect couple gearing up for an amorous weekend of camping under the stars. Their vacation plans are thwarted, however, when the two are taken hostage by fugitive Farell (Shea Whigham) and his coked-up gal pal (Rachel Kerbs). Another blow is dealt when their car overheats, forcing the pair and their captors to pull over at a gas station in the middle of nowhere. But little do they know that terror awaits, that a diabolical force of nature is about to make its grisly debut. It seems that some sort of weird parasite has been set free, a nasty little bugger that infects whatever living being it touches and takes them over from the inside out. As it turns out, the four have landed right in the middle of the hot zone, cornered in the gas station by the microscopic menace and left with little time to figure out how to combat it before they're infected next.

Splinter uses the perfect scenario for anyone looking to make a low-budget horror flick on the fly: human survivors inside, monster of the day outside. From Romero's Night of the Living Dead to as recently as The Mist, it's been the go-to means of minimizing cost while maximizing scares. It's tricky to pull off without coming across as lazy, but Splinter does pretty well for itself. The key to its success is that instead of over-exerting the premise, reaching for the stars when he doesn't have the resources to do so, director Toby Wilkins tailors the film to fit its simple set-up. The cast has but six actors to its name, the running time is a slim 82 minutes, and, most importantly, the antagonist is on a much smaller front than audiences are used to (though nonetheless creepy). Just the right touch of special effects wizardry is used to bring the parasite to life in all its icky glory. There are some big set pieces (the best of which sees Seth and Polly stalked by a severed hand), but Wilkins keeps them to a minimum. He doesn't make things big and flashy because he doesn't need to, striving to deliver an experience more lean and mean than cluttered and tiresome.

But for as earnest as Splinter's intentions are, it still can't avoid coming down with a case of the B-movie blues. I admire it cutting down on its length for the sake of being as quick and visceral as possible, but even at an hour plus change, Splinter's more cliched aspects tend to wear thin pretty fast. The actors, while not terrible by any means and in fact above average by horror movie standards, are still stuck going through the motions of their stereotypical characters. Costanzo is the nerdy nebbish, Wagner is the take-charge heroine, and Whigham is the bad boy with a troubled past that's supposed to excuse what a jerk he is (but really doesn't). All of this is nothing new, which is fine, but it does get a little dull watching this troupe fall prey to so many genre conventions in such a short amount of time. The film pretty much settles on the same repetitious routine of having the creature attack and the survivors retreating. There's not much excitement to be had here, save for the odd boneheaded decision (which no horror movie can be without) designed to lurch the plot forward.

Splinter is nothing earth-shattering, but it doesn't pretend to be. There's no grandiose social commentary to be had here, nor does it join the ranks of the all-time greatest screen shockers. Splinter is here to get in, have a bit of a monster mash, and get out, and while better films have been made with this approach, Wilkins and company don't do too shabby of a job themselves.

MY RATING: ** 1/2 (out of ****)
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