A biology student and his girlfriend are out camping to celebrate their anniversary, when the couple are carjacked and taken hostage by an on-the-run convict and his drugged out girlfriend trying to get to their stash o' cash and the Mexican border. A weird encounter involving the SUV's tire and strange prickly roadkill lead the foursome to an isolated gas station, where more prickly weirdness had occurred hours prior, but hadn't left.
I hadn't seen a good creature-feature flick in a long while, so I was pleasantly surprised when SPLINTER came along. I had actually seen the film prior to getting the chance to review this screener copy (it aired on HDNet two days before its theatrical release), so it was nice to get a second look at this puppy before it hit the store shelves. While there were points then and points now in the film that burned my ass, it certainly didn't disappoint for Toby Wilkins' feature-length directorial debut.
Right off the bat, I have to say that I love it when you get a film set in an isolated area and it's done right. Sure, the concept has been done to death and then some, but there's no shame in going back to an old standby and tweaking it that much that it works as if it were a totally new concept. In this case, there's not much difference between a couple and their captors trapped in an abandoned gas station, and a small group of space marines trapped in an abandoned colony. Well okay, there is, but you get my point when you see the juicy tension that comes from situations like these, and it's capitalized on.
The next sweet spot has to be the effects. Wilkins is no stranger to that part of the business, having been involved in effects sequences for films like RED DRAGON and the remake of THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE. From little prickly bits growing out of flesh, limbs and digits cracking and bending in wince-inducing ways, to just plain ol' messy blood effects, the film earns a thumbs-up from me. Fortunately, film doesn't just rely on special effects (and for good reason). The acting for the most part by everyone involved was on the mark. Props to Shea Whigham for being the convict you eventually like, cliché as that might sound. Again, a tweak on an old concept.
As much as I gushed about this film, it did make me cranky in spots. Despite some sweet effects, Wilkins decided to go the MTV route on our asses due to budget, so we get shaky cam stuff for spots where you're craning your neck to see more of the monster attacking. Even when you do get shots of the critter without the caffeine rush, the weak CG shows why it was necessary. Luckily, there aren't many shots with that happening. I also found Paulo Costanzo's character doing his 'Bill Nye thing' really out of place, especially when you have the monster right outside the door trying to get in.
Actually, that would've made Bill Nye way more entertaining at times.
Going along with Costanzo's 'huh?' moment, there are other points in the film where the acting had me doing facepalms ('When words fail to describe the dismay you feel!™'). I know being in a tense situation can make you say/do things that generally aren't the smartest things to do, but you're asking for trouble it you do them. In spite of these blights, SPLINTER isn't something you'd want to pass up if you're looking for a modern creature-feature fix. Great tension, an interesting creature concept and a great cast make this one a welcome addition to the sub-genre.
Video: Being that this is a screener disc, this isn't the final retail version. That said, the 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer looks pretty good, especially when it's not turning black and white for copy protection purposes. Great detail and colour, with only the slightest compression artifacts and aliasing, this is one pretty little ditty.
Audio: Even though it's just a screener disc, the Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track made for fun aural action. From gunshots to flies buzzing, the range of frequencies was a pleasant surprise. Dialogue was clear, even amidst the panicked score that helped to up the tension onscreen.
Nada. It's a screener disc. Just some startup trailers, one of which is for LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (yes!). The retail disc will, however, have much more, including two commentary tracks, an art gallery and a bunch of making-of featurettes.
Basically, you could think of this as a poor man's version of THE THING in some ways. It doesn't come close to John Carpenter's classic, but it's in the same great vein, featuring some sweet tension and gooey monster mashing. Give SPLINTER a spin to warm you up for Kurt Russell's beard, or you're in the mood for something that really gets under your skin. Literally.