Monday, 4 November 2013

Splinter - Review

I have no idea why it took me this long to check out Splinter. When it arrived on DVD in the UK I was working at Blockbuster and quickly lost count of the number of customers who, knowing me as a bit of a horror aficionado, recommended it.  I even borrowed it a couple of times but for one reason or another didn’t find the time to watch it.  I finally scratched that itch and in a way I’m glad it took me this long to do so because Splinter was just the tonic I was looking for.

The premise is beautifully simple.  After being abducted by two criminals on the run a couple find themselves trapped in a remote gas station under siege and at the mercy of a parasite which transforms its victim’s bodies into a relentless and deadly weapon.  The end result is an economical exercise in stomach-knotting terror with a healthy dose of wince inducing, bone-snapping special effects.

Director Toby Wilkins evidently has a fine understanding of the principal rules that should (but don’t always) govern low budget horror movies.  The formula for success is as follows: take a strong central premise that can be accomplished effectively on a lean budget; add a small cast who don’t act like they’ve been borrowed from Ikea; find a single main location (preferably remote); unleash hell.  Throw these elements into the big movie melting pot and the end result should be a damn tasty stew.  In Splinter all of these elements come together perfectly with the end result delivering one of the most intense and visceral pieces of body horror I’ve seen in some time.

There are too many horror movies that are populated with ciphers instead of living, breathing characters which the viewer can become emotionally invested in.  Take away that all-important element of actually caring about the fate of the characters and you’d best replace it with something else (that something else usually being, at best, a surfeit of expertly staged violence).   Personally I’ll take a horror movie where I give a shit about the fate of those caught up in the story over one where I’m thinking “die already”.  Splinter takes as much of its lean sub-ninety minute run-time as it can afford to develop its characters before it starts putting them through the wringer.  But crucially even when the shit starts liberally hitting the fan at a velocity that takes the viewer’s breath away the movie takes a a time-out from the mayhem every so often to ensure that you continue to care about these people.

The cast are excellent with Paulo Constanzo and Jill Wagner convincing as the couple who find themselves in a bad situation that just keeps getting worse.  Shea Whigham is utterly convincing as the escaped convict who as the movie progresses and the threat presented by the constantly mutating creature becomes more deadly finds himself having to bond with his captives in order to have any chance of surviving.

Another thing Splinter gets right is the special effects.  I’m a great believer in the (in danger of being lost) art of the practical effect.  CGI can be effective but, especially where low budget horror movies are concerned, should be used only in support of, not instead of, more classic methods.  I love the physical presence of practical effects.  CGI when used to entirely supplant practical effects often (not always) succeeds in diluting the effectiveness of a horror movie.  Take John Carpenter’s classic The Thing and compare it to the recent pseudo-remake.  Which is more effective?  If you think the latter is more effective you’re reading the wrong blog.  Splinter is an indie horror movie which was made on a micro budget.  The money spent on effects was likely a fraction of that granted to the vast majority of medium budget studio efforts.  But I’ll take the sometimes course but nonetheless effective FX in Splinter above the over-reliance on CGI that is in danger of becoming the default for the genre. 

With Splinter Toby Wilkins delivers a lean, mean and brutally effective indie horror gem.  If you’ve yet to see this brilliant slice of body horror I would suggest you remedy the situation with haste.  It’s sure to get under your skin.


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