Splinter is the typical horror story of a group of people trapped inside a building (a gas station) while a creature fights to get in. The creature itself is unique with adequate explanation, but this is an otherwise standard horror flick lifted by some truly intense sequences, before pulling the viewer out with aggravating camera work.
A young couple (Jill Wagner, Paulo Costanzo) drives down that long country road that only exists in movies. When stupidly picking up a hitchhiker, they’re carjacked and led to a gas station, but not before they run over something in the road. That “something” happens to be the Splinter creature, or pieces of it. The unidentified monster (if you can call it that) begins ripping into flesh, causing the skin to erupt with black, sharp “splinters.”
Splinter is brutal, and it’s not shy about showing the after effects of the parasite attack. Limbs are broken, skin is shredded, and heads dangle off the body once infected. For a low budget thriller, the effects are impressive.
Unfortunately, whether it’s for style or an attempt to hide the lesser part of the effects, director Toby Wilkins uses a nauseating strobe/shaky cam/shutter lens effect with every attack. It doesn’t add to the intensity or panic, but instead makes you wish for a second of steady, normal camera work. If you don’t want the audience to see the full creature, this isn’t the way to handle it.
The film works best when it slows down. Sequences of the survivors trying to find a way to escape (except for a boneheaded forest fire idea) work incredibly well. Wilkins’ style delivers a couple of great scares, although somewhat predictable for genre vets. There’s a great moment where the trapped heroes try to pull a police radio through a window with a series of coat hangers. Direction and editing are superb, and even when you know the scare is coming, it works.
With standard camera work, Splinter could have been a solid creature feature despite its traditional (and familiar) setting. Instead, the movie falls apart when the action kicks in, becoming a distraction and confusing mess that wastes its potential. It’s a brisk 80 minutes of film so it’s not a waste of time, but the potential is here for something great.
Shot digitally, Splinter comes to Blu-ray in a clean, crisp VC-1 transfer with few problems. The source is noise free, even in darker areas. Sharpness is excellent without any moments of wavering.
From the start, detail is phenomenal, but once into the gas station it begins to falter. The same goes for the flesh tones, which are immediately spot on. Once under the fluorescent lights, the disc drops from its top tier status. The contrast remains nice, and the blacks are consistently rich, so it’s a shame this can’t be said for facial detail which drops dramatically.
A strong, powerful DTS-HD mix delivers on a couple of levels. Forest ambience before reaching the gas station is spectacular. The opening attack nicely envelopes the viewer for the first scare. Bass is used mostly to scare the viewer, not necessarily accurate to the on-screen action. As a character is infected and slams her head into a window, it offers little impact. That said, some of the low-end shots are extremely powerful, and nicely rattle the walls.
Surrounds are used sparingly given the limited opportunity inside the gas station, although they do track some of the action well. Music bleeds into the rears, and in some cases unnaturally with beefed up surround use. Given the budget and source, this is still rather impressive work.
Splinter if one of those annoying discs that splits up one feature into a mess of smaller ones. You can avoid a lot of it by listening to two commentaries, both which feature director Toby Wilkins. He’s joined by the three person starring cast on the first. That’s followed by editor David Maurer and director of photography Nelson Cragg.
Those are followed by seven featurettes, all in standard def, with the longest running under five minutes. The brief look at the creature effects includes some brief footage, while others such as the pyro team barely run a minute long offering little or no depth. In all, together they total about 20 minutes. An art gallery includes creature concepts, followed by a variety of trailers.