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  • 18
  • Drama, Horror
  • 2008
  • 82 mins




British director Toby Wilkins' spiky feature debut exposes a hostage drama to a deadly parasite, with darkly fun results


"We've just gotta be smarter than what we're up against." So says Polly (Jill Wagner) to her boyfriend Seth (Paulo Costanzo) as they attempt to establish a camp in the woods for some "anniversary sex" under the stars. There is no questioning the intelligence of either of these college-educated twentysomethings, but when it comes to practical skills, bespectacled, beardy Seth is hopeless. A cityslicker through and through, he cannot pitch a tent, cannot drive a stick-shift, cannot even change a tyre - and he is just not equipped for the great outdoors, let alone for the hostage situation that is about to face the couple as they run into armed redneck fugitive Dennis Farell (Shea Whigham) and his junkie girlfriend Lacey (Rachel Kerbs). Still, when the four find themselves in an abandoned gas station, under siege from a vicious, hungry parasite that transforms its victims into spiky, spastic monsters, the biology post-grad comes into his own, with smarts to spare.

British horror director Toby Watkins and co-writers Kai Barry and Ian Shorr have plenty of smarts too. For while Splinter is essentially a low-budget transplantation of Ridley Scott's Alien (1979) or John Carpenter's The Thing (1982) to the backwoods, with a total cast of six (only four of whom are on-screen for more than a few minutes) and action mostly confined to a convenience store, so that, much like its geeky protagonist, the film really ought to be a casualty of its own limitations, in fact Watkins has conjured from his derivative premise a punchily entertaining feature debut.

By creating a hybrid of hostage drama, nature's revenge, siege scenario, grotesque gore and redemptive heroics in under an hour-and-a-half of pacy action, Watkins ensures the viewer's attention never drifts, and the macabre creature effects (including a loving homage to Sam Raimi's comic handiwork in Evil Dead II) deliver plenty of bang from the filmmaker's limited bucks - but the film's greatest strengths, rare for the genre, are its solid characterisation, witty dialogue and charismatic performances.

Sure there are monstrous goings-on at the periphery from the get-go, but it is the human element at the centre that keeps us involved and amused - and for once, these characters think their way through their deadly predicament and come up with a plan that, however messy in its execution, seems the best (as opposed to the most cinematically convenient) option available to them under the circumstances. They are indeed smarter than what they are up against - and there is something inherently funny about seeing a nerd who, in order to survive, must (literally) be cool.

Cast & Connections

  • Actor: Shea Whigham, Jill Wagner, Rachel Kerbs, Laurel Whitsett, Paulo Costanzo, Charles Baker
  • Director: Toby Wilkins
  • Screen Writer: Kai Barry, Ian Shorr, Toby Wilkins
  • Producer: Ted Kroeber, Kai Barry
  • Photographer: Nelson Cragg
  • Composer: Elia Cmiral

In a nutshell

While hardly an important film in the annals of horror, Splinter is well crafted, engagingly performed and thoroughly likeable form start to finish. And its menace is always mad enough to keep the viewer's temperature rising.

by Anton Bitel

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