Splinter (2008)

I find it amusing that the only explanation we ever get for the origin of the nasty parasite in this film is dropped very casually at the beginning of the film, when Seth and Polly, a couple out to celebrate their anniversary with a night under the stars, pass a sign that says:

“Keep out

Mid-State Oil, Inc.

Experimental Extraction

Field Site.”

Now it doesn’t actually use the evil word “fracking” (and maybe Splinter is a bit early for that anyway, as that’s a fairly recent obsession) but then it has long been a science fiction tradition that horrible things do emerge from deep under the Earth.

Don’t worry though: Splinter has no intention of preaching at you.  Instead what we have here is a stripped down, mean and lean monster movie, which takes a moment or two along the way to make its characters interesting…

Without interfering with some seriously heavy duty monster mayhem.

When that couple’s camping plans go awry, they are highjacked by a violent stranger, Dennis Farrell, and his disturbed girlfriend Lacey.

Only that too goes wrong when they hit an animal on the road that leaves them with a flat tire and other damage.

And before they can get moving again, the dead animal tries to attack them.

This leads them to a gas station whose attendant is already dead.  Before long, one of them is dead and they are trapped inside by a body horribly brought to life by a nasty parasite that twists and breaks that body as it uses it.

The creature is one of the most gruesome ones you’ll find in the cinema and (I’ll admit this surprised me) entirely created using practical effects.  It moves fast and in unexpected ways, and doesn’t look like any movie monster I’ve seen anywhere else, with the incredibly strong visual of the black “splinters” covering the parasite’s victims.

But the best part is that those trying to fight it off do so by learning what it is and how it behaves.

Or is the best part that the characters are allowed to grow, to show the strengths they had all along, and to reveal surprising secrets?

Without slowing down the driving pace by a single beat.  Or decreasing the tension by a single degree.

I wish there were more monster movies like Splinter: simple, direct, scary, and full of great effects — yet with enough character and story to make us care what happens.   Sadly, while he’s worked steadily in Television ever since, the director, Toby Wilkins has only returned to horror feature films with The Grudge 3.

And I’d be hard pressed to think of any more thankless movie job than making a sequel to a remake of a far superior Japanese film.

Oh, well.  Sometimes I think that every good B-Movie is nothing short of a miracle.  Every once in a while we get one.

But I still wish there were more…

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