Saturday, January 17, 2009

9 - Splinter

Directed by: Toby Wilkins
Written by: Kai Barry, Ian Shorr, Toby Wilkins
Country: USA
Starring: Shea Whigham, Paulo Costanzo, Jill Wagner, Rachel Kerbs

Seen at an all-night horror-fest (along with 35mm prints of Psycho, Jaws, and Dead Alive, among others), Splinter is a refreshingly well-paced and effectively acted horror flick, punctuated with leavening humor and imaginative effects work. The film merges the escape-from-a-besieged-central-locale sub-genre (a la Night of the Living Dead or the recent Vacancy) with Carpenter/Cronenberg body horror without making a fuss out of either. In fact, after a teaser intro at a gas station promising infectious prickliness to come, the plot begins sedately: our young protagonist couple Seth and Polly (Costanzo and Wagner) arrive in the wilderness for a romantic camping trip only to find it pretty wanting. Suddenly on the way back to the roads, they’re jacked by convict Dennis and his drug-addled girlfriend (Whigham and Kerbs), infusing this early stretch of the film with Hitcher-like overtones even as the tenseness of the situation is heightened when the car blows a tire running over an animal infected with the mysterious titular parasite. Enter the gas station. The rest of the film follows a quite logical, ratcheting progression as the characters lose one of their own and gradually try to discover the nature of the creature barring them from leaving the station.

The splinter parasite’s original host seems to be a kind of grisly porcupine, its quills infecting other creatures and causing death and atrocious limb contortions that come to life thanks to Splinter’s inventive stop-motion animation and prosthetics. Akin to the tactile terrors of Carpenter’s The Thing or the reanimated dead of early Sam Raimi, Wilkins’s monster(s) elicits disgust and admiration equally. As resourceful as its makers are the film’s characters, flesh-and-blood emotional beings confronting terror with logic and levelheadedness. With a short running time and realistically escalating pressure, the movie easily prevents itself from getting stale without insulting one’s intelligence.

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