Before the zombie craze was fully under way, indie horror movie Splinter was enjoying a bit of critical buzz. It only saw a limited theatrical run in 2008, but still earned a Best Horror Movie nomination at the Saturn Awards. Since its release, however, Splinter has unfairly faded into obscurity. In addition to some good practical effects, Toby Wilkins’ little horror movie puts an interesting spin on the zombie narrative. In this regard, it felt a bit ahead of the game in the mid-2000s. And critics appreciated the effort.
On their way to a camping trip, Polly and her bookworm boyfriend, Seth, cross paths with escaped convict, Dennis, and his junkie girlfriend, Lacey. But the carjacking doesn’t go well for either couple. They run over something on the road and before Polly can change the tire a strange splinter-like creature attacks the group. With no other options, they take shelter in a deserted gas station. Cut off from help, the parasitic ‘splinter’ stalks the group, infecting and taking over anyone with whom it comes into contact.
Splinter Shows Off the Best of DiY Indie Horror
A longtime visual effects supervisor, British director Toby Wilkins (The Grudge 3) was in familiar territory behind the camera for Splinter. On one hand, this DIY indie horror movie is a stripped down monster movie with a simple premise. Like another 2008 indie release, Pontypool, Splinter puts a clever twist on the zombie narrative. That is, Ian Shore and Kai Barry’s screenplay re-imagines the concept as a parasite. And Wilkins understands that there doesn’t really need to be much else to explain. The story allows Paulo Constanzo’s science-obsessed ‘Seth’ to give audiences some context. Yet aside from these bits of dialogue, Wilkins keeps things moving a brisk pace. Here, the focus is on the characters and the plight in which they find themselves. Once Wilkins strands his characters Splinter mixes bits of The Thing and Night of the Living Dead without aping its influences.
There’s plenty of bloody horror moments alongside a genuinely unique, disturbing monster.
Not surprisingly, Wilkins delivers a straightforward but clever creature that puts good use to its practical effects. There’s plenty of bloody horror moments alongside a genuinely unique, disturbing monster. It’s a testament to practical effects with the use of contortionists to mimic infection adding a nice trick. On one hand, Wilkins never overexposes his creature, which benefits the effects. However, Splinter too often leans on a shaky cam that quickly feels tedious. Some of the editing feels jarring as well. Nonetheless, the single setting, small cast, and lean pacing ensure that Splinter satisfies.
Splinter Benefits From Its Small Cast, Single Setting
In addition to its practical effects and lean pacing, Splinter feature a good, small cast of familiar faces from the 2000s. Both Costanzo (Road Trip) and Jill Wagner (Teen Wolf) are extremely likeable as the hijacked couple. And veteran character actor Shea Whigham anchors the movie playing the irascible escaped convict who eventually – and predictably – embraces the antihero role. One of the below-the-surface strengths of Splinter is the chemistry among the cast – it serves to increase audience identification. Conversely, the lack of conflict between the characters – outside of some early back and forth – reduces potential tension.
One of the below-the-surface strengths of Splinter is the chemistry among the cast – it serves to increase audience identification.
Fortunately, Splinter’s economical story-telling and the single-setting maintain a level of suspense. Wilkins stages a handful of edge-of-your seat moments. In particular, a third act attempt to get to a police car radio stands out. Given the small cast, it’s inevitable that someone isn’t going to make it to the end of the movie. This helps heighten some of the suspense as it’s not immediately obvious who the most likely survivors may be to audiences. Similar to the lack of tension, the finale does leave one feeling that Wilkins takes a bit of an easy way out. That’s not to say the conclusion isn’t satisfying – just maybe a little too convenient.
Splinter Delivers a Bloody, Lean Thriller
In spite of a bit too much shaky cam, Splinter impressively blends bits of The Thing and Night of the Living Dead into a lean, bloody thriller. While Shorr and Barry’s screenplay avoids needless exposition, Wilkins wisely adopts a ‘less is more’ approach to the parasitic monster. And what’s put on screen embodies the best of DIY indie horror. Simply put, Splinter understands that what you don’t see is often scarier that what’s in plain view. Though it’s not a classic, this is criminally underseen movie that deserves to be re-visited.