DIRECTOR: Toby Wilkins
WRITER: Kai Barry, Ian Shorr and Toby Wilkins
STARS: Shea Whigham, Paulo Costanzo, Jill Wagner
PLOT: An innocent couple and a wanted criminal are trapped in a gas station by a deadly and aggressive fungus that is seemingly capable of bringing its victims back to life.
One thing that has become apparent to me whilst browsing the TV Guide to put together the Freeview Movies of the Week is that there are very rarely any decent movies on The Horror Channel. Every so often though, one will catch my eye and I’ll record it, just on the off chance it might be good. Splinter was one of those films.
Splinter is the feature-length directorial debut of British director Toby Wilkins, who previously directed a number of highly regarded short films. The film sees a couple on a camping trip carjacked by a wanted criminal and his girlfriend, but things take an even darker turn when they stop at a gas station and are attacked by a bizarre creature. It transpires that the monster is actually a dead body that is host to an aggressive ‘splinter fungus’ which feeds on bodily tissue and voraciously seeks out new sustenance. The small group of potential victims take refuge in the gas station’s kiosk and must put aside their differences and work together to both understand and outwit their unusual foe.
The story itself is actually fairly predictable, taking cues from Night of the Living Dead for its situation, and The Thing for its grotesque monster. The creature’s origin is pretty unique though and its motivation is cleverly thought out and explained. This is clearly a low budget film but any shortcomings in the effects for the beast are smartly dealt with by never showing it on-screen for very long. The director of photography should certainly be applauded for this, and for very good cinematography throughout the film, in fact.
One thing that usually ruins horror films with this kind of budget is the acting, with one-dimensional performances from characters you seldom care about being the norm. It is therefore a real pleasure to find that the small cast of this film does a great job. There is little in the way of back story for them, but throughout their ordeal the characters evolve, show different strengths or weaknesses and become far more likeable than they are at the start. To get this depth of characterisation from (at the time) relatively inexperienced actors in a film of this type is a rare treat and certainly elevates the film.
Splinter is ultimately a fun horror film that has enough about it to keep your attention throughout. Credit must go to the director for putting together a decent story, enjoyable acting performances, enough scares to satisfy most horror fans and even a touch of black humour in a film whose budget almost certainly didn’t deserve all that. Wilkins has since gone on to direct The Grudge 3 and turn his hand to a number of TV series, including Teen Wolf and Chosen, and I for one will be keeping an eye out for his future film offerings.
Review by Mat Corne
A surprisingly smart and enjoyable horror movie that cleverly disguises its modest budget and offers an impressive level of characterisation from its tiny cast.