Monday, April 20, 2009

Splinter Review

I know I've recommended it before, but I now need to take a critical eye to just how Splinter will hold up to my criteria. It came out last Tuesday on DVD and Blu-Ray (I have it on Blu-Ray and it's quite enjoyable), so I would suggest trying to find it. Very worthy little flick, but what is it all about?

Well, we find a couple, Polly and Seth (played by Jill Wagner, the Mercury spokeswoman, and Paulo Costanzo) trying to go camping. Seth isn't the outdoors type but Polly would like to go camping for their anniversary. They have some tent problems, so they are forced to scrap the camping and go for a motel. On the way, the see a girl alongside the road in need of help (Lacey, played by Rachel Kerbs). When they stop to help her, her boyfriend Dennis (aka D, played by Shea Wigham) pulls a gun on them and tells them to drive the pair to the nearest town so they can run from the law. On the way into town, they run over a strange spiny creature that pops a tire and ruins their radiator, forcing them to stop at a gas station.

They then encounter a strange creature that kills things and seems to reanimate their bodies. They are chased by severed arms, reanimated bodies, and creatures with spines all over their bodies. They have to try to escape this hell before they succumb to the creatures themselves. Who survives and who becomes one with the Splinter creature?

Cinematography: The movie starts off with some nice establishing shots of the Oklahoma wilderness and some very cool exteriors. And once they are inside the gas station, the majority of the movie is done very well, giving it a nice confined feel. However, the action shots tend to involve a lot of quick cuts and shaky cam, sort of deterring from the experience. You never really get a good look at the monster because of the shots, which was the intent because of the small budget, but it still makes for some very annoying camera work. However, it wasn't all that damaging to the overall competent shooting of the film, so it earns a 3 out 5 for Cinematography.

Execution: Well, we get to see a monster movie that doesn't involve any huge creatures from the sea or werewolves, so that's a huge plus for originality. I know the idea of something taking over a human body isn't that original, but the design of the creature definitely is. The actors and characters they portray are not only believable, but genuinely likable. Shea Wigham is very good as D, going the full gamut from despicable antagonist to the protagonist everyone is rooting for. He's a powerhouse onscreen, well aided by Wagner and Costanzo. The characters all have their arc that is very well executed and keep you engaged and the story is quite original, so it gets an impressive 4.5 out of 5 for Execution.

Sub-genre Comparison: It's definitely a monster movie of sorts, but it's hard to compare to recent monster movies like Cloverfield or The Host (2 very good movies) because of the scale of the monsters in those movies. However, it does hold up very well against them. Slither and Black Sheep are more equatable (again, 2 very good movies), and Splinter keeps right up with them as well (though it's not as funny). Splinter will hold up well against pretty much any film of the genre, even such classics as The Howling or Alien (though it may not be as good, it's not far behind). It gets a glowing 5 out of 5 for Sub-Genre Comparison, which isn't to say it's the best of its kind, but Splinter is amongst the top contenders.

Production Value: Splinter is not a top budget flick. The creature effects don't really seem to suffer from this though. They are wonderfully done (possibly because you never really get a good look due to the shaky cam) and end up being very creepy. The effects of a person succumbing to the splinter creature are startling and jarring, making joints go the wrong way and causing the limbs of dead bodies flail about. The scenes with the creature trying to get into the gas station by just throwing the body against the glass are nerve wracking. And there is a scene where they have to amputate an infected arm with a box cutter and a cinder block that is one of the most intense and gut-wrenching scenes I have seen in a long time (that isn't a torture scene of some sort). It's incredibly well done for the shoe-string budget it had to work with, so Splinter earns a 4.5 out of 5 for Production Value.

Scares: This movie will scare you. It will keep you on edge. It's not particularly scary in the sense of giving you nightmares, but it's tense and unnerving, with great use of sound to keep up the intensity. Some of Splinter's scariest moments come from the sound effects and atmosphere rather than the creature itself. Not a lot of jump scares to be found, but it does have a few thrown in for good measure. When a movie can make a disembodied arm crawling towards someone creepy and not laughable, it's doing something right. Splinter comes up with a 4 out of 5 for Scares.

So, the final tally for Splinter is an impressive 21 out of 25. This is a must see as far as I'm concerned. It a nice tight little movie that only really suffers from questionable camera work. However, as I said, that doesn't ruin the movie at all. This movie has given me hope for the future of small budget American horror and proves that we can still produce some good flicks in our own country (nothing against foreign horror, just nice to know we can still do it!). I greatly encourage horror fans to go see this movie, especially on Blu-Ray! Go! Do it!

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