Maybe it’s just me, but it sure seems like most of the horror flicks crawling out of the woodwork the past decade or so fall into one of three categories: remakes of Asian cinema, unnecessary reboots of genre classics, or tiring sequels just to milk the teat of a dried up cash cow well past its prime. That’s why it was a breath of fresh air to review ‘Splinter.’ As a retro-style monster movie, the film doesn’t really break any new ground, but it’s a smart and streamlined gore-fest that succeeds in wriggling its way deep under your skin.
The plot involves Seth (Paulo Costanzo) and his girlfriend Polly (Jill Wagner) who set off on a romantic camping getaway to celebrate their one-year anniversary. After an unfortunate mishap makes it crystal clear that Seth isn’t exactly the outdoorsy type, the young couple figures it’s just best to pack it in and find a motel. However, the plan goes awry when a wanted criminal named Dennis (Shea Whigham) and his junkie squeeze Lacey (Rachel Kerbs) suddenly spring out of nowhere to carjack the lovers and take them hostage. Before they can get very far, the group mows down what appears to be a funky-looking porcupine, and the road kill causes enough damage to the vehicle to send the foursome in search of assistance. A glimmer of hope comes in the form of an isolated gas station, except little do they know that’s where Seth and Polly’s weekend retreat is about to be ruined by a much bigger prick than Dennis.
Much of the success of ‘Splinter’ is owed to director Toby Wilkins. Not only did he come up with the concept of the bizarre splinter creature with one of his friends, but his extensive background in visual effects also played a critical role in bringing it to life. Rather than taking the easy route and going CGI crazy, it was very important to Wilkins to do things the old fashioned way through make-up and prosthetics. With the help of Quantum Creature FX, they were able to create one heck of a unique monster, and more importantly, one that the cast could physically see and interact with on camera to enhance the tension and suspense. Another plus is how Wilkins favors quick edits to show just enough of the monster while still keeping the bulk of it shrouded in mystery, then he takes care to ensure the movie doesn’t even have time to drag in places by keeping it all tucked neatly inside a very compact 82-minute package.
The other driving force is the screenplay by Kai Barry and Ian Shorr. The story isn’t earth-shattering or entirely original (I can see it draws its inspiration from movies like 'The Thing'), but the key factor is how it doesn’t stray into the realm of stupidity. The characters approach their predicament with intelligence and the clichés are kept in check. I also thought it was clever how the creature’s origin is merely hinted at in a scene or two, and it’s Costanzo’s character who is the one that provides an explanation as to what the creature may be, although it’s just his best scientific guess. Sometimes a movie is more effective when everything isn’t completely spelled out for the viewer, and it definitely works here for ‘Splinter.’
If I could change one thing about this film, though, I think I would have preferred seeing the character of Seth have a little more heart. I get that he’s weaker than Dennis and didn’t expect him to put up much of a fight being held at gunpoint, but his reactions to the treatment of his girlfriend seemed cold and uncaring. He didn’t really make any attempt to jump to her rescue, and in one particular instance it even looked like he was seriously contemplating running for it and leaving her in the dust. This complete lack of chivalry didn’t help me care about his survival, and when there aren’t all that many characters to begin with (six by my count), it’s imperative to feel for as many as possible.
Magnolia Home Entertainment brings ‘Splinter’ to Blu-ray with a 1080p/VC-1 encode (2.35: 1 aspect ratio). While the transfer isn’t exactly stellar compared to other releases, it’s still quite pleasing considering the film's shoestring budget.
’Splinter’ was shot digitally, so there isn’t any grain on the picture or the usual imperfections associated with film. From the opening scene at the gas station, I was very impressed with the detail of the leaves of trees and the grime on the attendant’s witty baseball cap. The color palette definitely isn’t as bright as say a Disney release, but the greenery of the surrounding Oklahoma forest certainly gives a sense of inviting freshness. Skin tones were a little pale to my eyes, although they still had some fine detailing, and of course the gore looks terrific in high-definition.
My only minor concern was with the black levels, as certain darker scenes seemed to have a murky dark brown or a slight greenish tinge to them in places. However, as the movie went on and I witnessed some these anomalies appearing with pretty deep black levels on screen at the same time, I’ve come to the conclusion this is probably more due to the lighting than an issue with the actual transfer. For what it's worth, horror fans should be satisfied with the results at any rate.
The U.S. version of ‘Splinter’ on Blu-ray apparently isn’t region-locked and should play fine in all PlayStation 3 and standalone players.
The Blu-ray’s lossless English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is fairly active, and does a great job enhancing the fright-factor. The buzzing of insects from the wilderness and other subtle effects create an eerie surround ambience, and strategically placed bass rumblings in Elia Cmiral's score help fuel a couple of solid jump-out-of-your-seat moments. For the most part, dialog is crisp and well-balanced, however there’s one instance inside the gas station where the conversation between the main characters drops to somewhat of a soft whisper, so some viewers may find themselves reaching for their remotes. I only noticed this volume discrepancy in this one particular case, though, and experienced no other hiccups afterwards.
The disc also includes optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles.
It appears that all of the bonus supplements on the ‘Splinter’ Blu-ray are ported over from the standard-definition DVD release. It’s also worth noting that while each of the featurettes may not run for very long, they are still very interesting and informative without any unnecessary fluff. It’s just too bad that there isn’t a “play all” option to group them together in one long featurette.
’Splinter’ cleaned house at Screamfest 2008 and snagged six awards including: best picture, director, special effects, make-up, editing, and score. It’s an infectious little monster movie that may not technically shatter the B-movie mold, but it’s one whose main strengths lie in righting many of the wrongs frequently made in these types of productions. The Blu-ray also delivers solid picture, sound, and modest supplements, so this one is definitely worthy of a peek for horror fans.