July 24, 2011

Splinter (2008)

"Trapped in an isolated gas station by a voracious Splinter parasite that transforms its still living victims into deadly hosts, a young couple and an escaped convict must find a way to work together to survive this primal terror."

I just attempted to rewatch "Splinter" but either it was far too soon since the last time that I saw it or it's actually a very mediocre film that was just the best of a bad lot but I really didn't enjoy it as much. I had to switch it off, leave it alone for a while and then come back to it later several times just to be able to write this review.

When I first watched "Splinter" back in 2009 (not 2008 when it came out), I liked it a lot. The acting was far better than I was expecting it to be, the practical effects were really good, and the story kept me interested all the way to the end. I would even have gone so far as to say that it was exciting.

Of course there were some parts which stretched my willing suspension of disbelief to the maximum including how a nerd like Seth (Paulo Costanzo) would never get a hot girlfriend like Polly (Jill Wagner) if this was real life, the ridiculous arm amputation scene and the whole splintery fungus thing in the first place. But, overall, as a more serious and less CGI-fuelled alternative to "Slither" (2006), I was impressed.

I still really hated the camerawork. All the shaking, flickering and quick cuts made the action really difficult to enjoy. I liked the gore, especially the cop's death, but it would have been nicer if I could have seen more of it. Blood and guts isn't everything as long as you also have suspense and good characterisation but it's still necessary in a film of this kind. It's obvious that a lot of work went into the effects so it's a real shame that you only get to see them so fleetingly.

Watching "Splinter" again has revealed a lot more flaws than I noticed at first. Although the acting is exceptional with Shea Whigham as bad boy Dennis really standing out, the characterisation is actually not as strong as I believed it to be. It's adequate but everything relies way too much on the looks of the actors rather than their revealing expositions or development. It's only an 82 minute film so I know I'm being overcritical even though I've seen much shorter films with far more depth to the characters than this. Their relationship to each other is all somewhat inconsistent too although, given the situation that they are in, that's only to be expected.

There isn't a lot of tension either. Maybe it's the pace of the film in general but there didn't seem to be enough time spent on the one scene in particular where Seth freezes himself to get past the the splinter monster. It left me just as cold and certainly didn't get my adrenaline pumping. I'm not a filmmaker so I'm not sure how it could have been better but maybe having the monster in the same frame as Seth progressed towards the police car would have helped. It all seemed too easy.

Where "Splinter" failed most for me was that, in spite of setting out to be a "creature feature", it followed the pattern of most slashers. Instead of a cabin in the woods, we have an gas station in the woods and, of course, the killer isn't human but I think you can see what I mean. Changing the setting but still killing off the cast one by one is a staple of the horror genre. It's not very original but, depending on how well it's done, we all keep falling for it over and over again. Even classics such as "Night of the Living Dead", "Alien or "The Thing" can be argued to be slashers and the influence of all of these films on "Splinter" is very noticeable.

How then should I rate "Splinter"? Well, I think I've already worked out that it doesn't stand up to a repeat viewing but it's not a bad film by any means. I think I'll play it safe and call it average. It was one of the best horror films from 2008 but that isn't much of a recommendation.

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