Splinter” proves you don’t need torture racks (“Saw”), masked killers (“Halloween”) or even a shaky video camera (“The Blair Witch Project”) to give us the creeps.
The new film spins on a blissfully simple premise. Four people get stuck in a Kwik-E-Mart style shop while something nasty waits outside, eager to break in.
When an uncomplicated concept is well executed, that’s all you really need.
Seth (Paolo Costanzo) and Polly (Jill Wagner) are trying to celebrate their anniversary with an impromptu camping trip. Seth ends up ripping their tent, so they decide to find a cheap hotel instead.
Before they find shelter they’re abducted by a pair of not-so-petty crooks. Dennis (Shea Whigham) and Lacey (Rachel Kerbs) are on the run and in need of some wheels, so they take Polly’s car and keep the couple as hostages.
The foursome stops at a local gas-n-go to buy extra coolant, and that’s when the horror kicks in. Lacey is attacked by something vaguely human, a creature with quills jutting out from its mangled body. The rest of the group is forced to retreat into the shop for safety.
Now they must work together to figure out just what assaulted them and devise a way to defeat it. Easier said than done, especially since Dennis has a splinter in his finger that’s turning his hand all sorts of nasty colors.
“Splinter” works because the characters deserve our sympathy and the gore is accompanied by well-choreographed frights. The brainy Seth might end up saving the day, but it’s fascinating to watch Polly’s frustration with his analytical approach – and her appreciation for Dennis’ take-charge style.
The creature itself seems to host on the people it kills, a neat variation on the tried-and-true zombie format.
British director Toby Wilkins (the upcoming “Grudge 3″) began his career as a visual effects specialist, but he’s made a slick transition to helming features. The next step in his education will be to stop shaking his camera every time the creature makes a move.
The film’s lack of ambition starts to show in the final moments. We’re treated to a less than crackerjack conclusion, one that teases out a redemptive storyline that feels pat and unearned.
“Splinter” begs for a sequel – just what are these creatures? Where do they come from? And what havoc are they spreading elsewhere?
But making “Splinter” a franchise misses the point. Let’s leave it as an example of what sturdy craftsmanship, and filmmakers unbowed by budgetary constraints, can accomplish in the horror genre.
(Photo: Jill Wagner and Shea Whigham hide out from a mysterious creature in “Splinter,” a Magnet Release – photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing.)