Splinter (2008)

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*. When this film it came out it was heralded as one of the better horror movies of the year. I thought it was OK, but . . .
*. It’s a ho-hum story in the horror-siege genre, the only point to it being to provide an excuse for showing off the “Splinter Creature.” This means that the creature has to carry the entire film. Yes it’s a small cast intereacting on a restricted set, but we came here to see the monster.
*. That monster, however, is only slightly original. Basically it looks like John Carpenter’s version of The Thing, with various absorbed bodies grotesquely melting together and weird appendages breaking out in crazy directions.
*. To its credit, at least it’s not another vampire or zombie movie. And also to its credit is the fact that there is very little CGI. Most of what you see are practical effects. But, and this is a big caveat, you’re not going to see much.
*. You never get a good look at the monster. There are no big, revealing shots of it, even at the end. The editing is very fast and choppy and during the frantic action scenes the camera is moving all over the place.
*. Director Toby Wilkins cites the Bourne movies and 28 Days Later as his inspiration. If you’ve read my notes on the latter you know how much I hated the jerky editing. In fact, after CGI I think this is the aspect of contemporary action/thriller filmmaking that I hate the most. Is it just because I’m so much older than the target audience? I don’t think so, as I’ve heard a lot of young people complain about the same thing. Surely there’s a limit to how much and how fast you can yank the audience’s eyeballs around. And it really defeats the purpose when you can’t understand what’s going on.
*. A little of this kind of camera work, especially at the beginning, would have been fine. What is that critter that comes out of the woods and attacks the gas station attendant, for example? I think it’s an infected racoon, but it might be a fox. In any event, there’s nothing wrong with keeping your monster hidden this early. Only at some point you have to show the audience what you’ve got.
*. According to the filmmakers the reason they didn’t show more of the creature was simple: it looked like shit. The rubber suit didn’t even fit the guy wearing it in the final sequence. Which is at least being honest.
*. As already noted, the script is nothing special. I found the business with Seth lowering his core body temperature so as not to be noticed by the heat-seeking creature a ridiculous premise. Why didn’t they just insulate him, or cover him with frozen blankets? Mud worked for Arnie in Predator.
*. It also seemed to me that fighting the creature with fire would have been (1) more obvious, and (2) easier. They had all that lighter fluid they didn’t end up doing anything with aside from the crazy notion of pouring it out the door and somehow setting the forest on fire. How was that ever supposed to work?
*. Why is the cop so dense about not heeding the warnings everyone is shouting at her? I think that sequence goes on too long.
*. As Seth was getting ready to stagger to the cop’s car I kept wondering how unlikely it would be to think that the cop had left her keys in it. Remarkably, this is something that seems not to have occurred to anyone. I had to face palm when he finally did get to the car and found out that there were, in fact, no keys in it. Damn!
*. There’s no explanation for what the Splinter Creature is: whether a long-dormant species or something recently mutated. Such an explanation is unnecessary, but I wonder if they considered addressing this at some point. Wilkins says he wasn’t interested, but we do drive by a sign announcing experimental oil extraction going on in the area. Alas, like most such environmental warnings in this supposedly environmental age, the sign is ignored and nothing more is said about it.
*. On the commentary track Wilkins describes the sign as “one of our two very subtle, faint, allusions to maybe where the creature came from.” I didn’t register what the other clue was. I think he might have been referring to all the insects buzzing around.

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*. So it’s nothing particularly new, and not very smart. But Wilkins handles suspense well and keeps things moving along (the film clocks in at only 82 minutes, which was a relief). I really like the “fishbowl” effect of the gas station/convenience store. Jill Wagner rocks the horror-girl tank-top. Paul Costanzo is a convincing nerd. The white trash couple are believable, and Lacey has a zinger of a line about shooting a hole in Polly big enough to watch TV through.
*. There’s a nice amputation scene where an arm gets taken off with a boxcutter and a cinderblock. Though I have to say that Seth’s expression of surprise when he finds out he can’t cut through the large bone in Dennis’s upper arm with a boxcutter is hard to credit. This is, however, of a piece with the failure of any of the characters to think things through (see their plans for setting the forest on fire, or getting to the cop car without having any keys). Are we seeing a satire on the attention-deficit generation?
*. Curiously, another horror film that came out the same year, The Ruins, also featured a gruesome makeshift amputation scene as a highlight. Such things were obviously in style in 2008.
*. I thought this movie was better than The Ruins. So was this one of the better horror flicks of 2008? Damn, the bar has been set so low I think that maybe it was.

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