Friday, 1 October 2010

Splinter (2008)

After numerous injuries, Porcupine Wrestling
was removed from the sports program.

Stop me if you've heard this one. A young couple, Seth (Paolo Costanzo) and Polly (Jill Wagner), are headed into the woods for a romantic camping holiday when they are car-jacked by an escaped felon Dennis (Shea Wigham) and his meth-head girlfriend Lacey (Rachel Kerbs). After they stop to change a flat tire, the four of them are attacked by a terrifying monster and forced to seek shelter at an abandoned gas station. As they fend off the creature they go through various attempts to contact the authorities, which range from the sensible (trying to get hold of a policewoman's radio) to the inscrutably ridiculous (pouring lighter fluid through the crack under the door and then lighting it up as a way of attracting attention).

So okay, you've got a small cast confined to a single location that is under seige by a gooey monster. Not an particularly unique set up for a horror film, but writer/director Toby Wilkins applies the formula will enough skill to keep your interest. A simmering conflict between the coolly analytical Seth and the more impulsive Polly keeps the tension rising, although for most of the film Seth is so cowardly and incompetent that you wonder why they are together at all. Dude can't even change a flat tire. Like I mentioned in my Human Centipede review, a lot of horror movie characters could be saved if they just learned how to change a damn tire. Anyway, the characters work pretty well for the most part.

The monster concept is pretty creative too. It's a parasite that causes an infected creature to grow spikes all over their skin like a fungus or mold. It can then control the muscles of the infected area and spread the parasite to other creatures by slashing them with it's spikes. There's a pretty cool bit where someone's infected arm gets a life of it's own, painfully twisting and contorting at unnatural angles, breaking the bones and resulting in a nasty amputation using only a box cutter and a cinder block. Severed limbs can be controlled independantly too, so there are several scenes of reanimated body parts chasing people around. I'm always up for an Evil Dead style severed hand chase.

Unfortunately there's a far less entertaining parasite infesting this film. The dreaded shaky-cam. Look, I know I harp on about this topic a lot. I know that directors these days favour documentary realism over visual clarity. Sometimes it's also a lazy way to paper over technical shortcomings, but I don't think that's the case here. Wilkins has a long history in visual effects, and the practical effects you do see are great, which makes it all the more frustrating when the camera starts whipping around and no single shot lasts more than a couple of seconds. Maybe Wilkins has a bit of a self-confidence problem. Maybe he should start a daily affirmation where he looks in the mirror every morning and says: "I have confidence in my abilities as a cinematic craftsman. I will reject shaky cam and it's empty promises of 'realism'. I will show my rubber monsters on camera for more than three seconds at a time." Come on buddy. We believe in you.

Apart from that it's actually very well made. When the camera stays still you've got great visuals with excellent night photography, and when it isn't at least you've got cool, creepy sound design, with lots of squishy sound effects and cracking bones. One thing I especially liked was the tone. It's fun without being campy or making a lot of stupid jokes. It takes itself seriously enough for the tension to work, but it's never self-serious or pretentious. It reminded me a lot of some older 80s horror films. I also appreciated that it had a cast of relative adults and not a bunch of dipshit teenagers.

The shakycam bullshit rubbed me the wrong way, but almost everything else rubbed me the right way, especially Jill Wagner. My anti-shaky-cam fundamentalist beliefs mean I didn't enjoy this as much as some other people, but if you can put up with all the handheld nonsense then I would give it a go.

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