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Splinter (2008)

Magnolia Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 4/14/2009

All Ratings out of
Video: 1/2
Extras: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 4/20/2009

When discussing his 1981 classic horror film The Evil Dead, Director Sam Raimi has described the film as featuring "Spam in a cabin". With this, he's referring to the fact that the movie features a group of characters who are trapped inside of a shack while evil forces attempt to get inside. His movie is only one of many which have featured this scenario, where we watch a group of individuals attempt to find a way to survive while keeping their assailants outside. (Night of the Living Dead may be the best example of this sub-genre of horror.) (Director John Carpenter would tell you that these movies are simply updates on westerns where the cavalry was trapped inside of their own forts.) The makers of Splinter apparently studied these films and attempted to hit all of the right notes while telling their story of man vs. monster.

As Splinter opens, we are introduced to two very different couples. Polly (Jill Wagner) and Seth (Paulo Costanzo) are on a romantic getaway, where they are trying to find a nice spot to camp overnight. After this fails, they try to find a motel. Dennis (Shea Whigham) and Lacey (Rachel Kerbs) are two criminals who are on the lam. Their truck has broken down, so they start to hitchhike. Seeing the desperate-looking Lacey in the road, Polly stops their car, and suddenly they are being carjacked by Dennis. He and Lacey pile in, forcing Polly to keep driving. However, the car soon begins to overheat. They pull over at a convenience store, which is deserted. Suddenly, the group is attacked by a monster and lock themselves inside the store. As they try to find a way to get back outside and to a vehicle, they learn that the monster has a bizarre way of growing and reproducing which will make escaping very difficult.

As noted above, Splinter joins a long line of films which feature the aforementioned "Spam in a cabin" premise, and it seems quite obvious that Director Toby Wilkins and writers Kai Barry and Ian Shorr went through a checklist of what needs to be included in these movies. We get the level-headed person who wants to think things through; the edgy person who doesn't want to listen to anyone's advice and only wants to be in charge; the nervous person whose actions start a chain-reaction; the arguments over whether to stay or go; the help which arrives and doesn't heed the warnings of those inside; and the final plan to flee the scene. In addition, we get the totally unrelated storyline which gets the characters to the location where they will be trapped. (Think Barbara simply visiting a cemetery in Night of the Living Dead, which leads her to be trapped in a house which is surrounded by zombies.)

If you get the feeling that I'm trying to say that Splinter isn't very original, then you are very perceptive. And the movie sticks so closely to the standard facets of the genre, that I honestly don't know if it wants to be original. The one original thing about the film is the creature, from which the film gets its name. The monster is covered in "splinters" and infects others who are pricked by these protrusions. However, for some reason, be it artistic or economic, Wilkins has opted to never show the monster in full-form. We get to see bits and pieces of the monster or glimpse it out of focus in the background. This is disappointing, because what we do see is certainly interesting, and I would have loved to have seen more. And again, either for artistic or economic reasons, there aren't enough characters in the movie. Films in this genre works because we are waiting to see who is going to get it next. But, with Splinter, we know that 50-66% of the cast is going to die, so there isn't very much suspense. Also, this cuts down on the tension, as there aren't enough people to choose sides.

These problems aside, Splinter does have a lot of energy and it's never a dull movie. The pacing is good, the scares are evenly spaced, and there is some tension. But, the lack of originality does hurt the film, and personally, I preferred the very similar Feast.

Splinter invades an incredibly well-stocked convenience store on DVD courtesy of Magnolia Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is clear and fairly sharp, showing only slight grain and no defects from the source material. The colors are good and the image is never overly dark or bright. However, there is some shimmering on the image and horizontal lines which reminded me of VHS tape which needed its tracking adjusted. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. This is a movie which relies on sounds which come from off-screen and this track works well for this. The stereo effects are good and show nice stereo separation. The surround sound effects aren't constant, but they are effective when present. Nicely placed bass booms create jolts in the monster scenes.

The Splinter DVD contains a monstrous amount of extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY with Director Toby Wilkins and actors Shea Whigham, Paulo Costanzo, and Jill Wagner.  This is a very good talk as Wilkins discusses specifics of the shoot and the story, while the actors compliment one another and talk about their experiences on-set.   Next, we have a COMMENTARY with Wilkins, Director of Photography Nelson Cragg, and Editor David Michael Maurer.  This is also a good commentary, as we gain insight into some of the technical decisions which went into making the movie.  We then have a series of featurettes which could have easily been edited into one piece. "The Splinter Creature" (4 minutes) has comments from Wilkins commenting on the monster while we watch behind-the-scenes footage of the creature make-up being applied. "Creature Concept Art Gallery" (90 seconds) offers a look at the evolution of the monster designs. "The Wizard" (1 minute) offers a look at the film's pyrotechnics masters. Wilkins explains the creation of the main set in "Building the Gas Station" (2 minutes). "Shooting Digitally" (2 minutes) has Wilkins sharing his feeling on shooting with new technology. Wilkins discusses the rain which hit the production in "Oklahoma Weather" (2 minutes). Jill Wagner creates an odd Jack O'Lantern in "How to Make a Splinter Pumpkin" (2 minutes). "HDNet: A Look at Splinter" (5 minutes) is a brief overview of the movie.

Review Copyright 2009 by Mike Long