A tidy, terrifying thriller set in the backwoods of Oklahoma, Splinter unleashes what appears to be a zombie porcupine, but turns out to be a host-inhabiting parasite that manifests itself with needle-thin spikes and an unquenchable thirst for blood. A cast of four—six, if you count two victims dispatched in minutes—gives Tom Wilkins’ popcorn flick a wrenching intimacy with the characters that surpasses genre standards, which otherwise are predictably and precisely executed. Gore and suspense fans will make a smart choice packing the theatres on its Halloween opening weekend—if they aren’t out smashing pumpkins past curfew, that is.
Jill Wagner and Paolo Costanzo star as Polly and Seth, a city-ish couple camping for their anniversary. On the road, they’re stopped by a gun-waving outlaw pair headed to Mexico. Dennis (Shea Wiggam) is a felon; his beloved lady Lacey (Rachel Kerbs) is strung out from meth withdrawals. The foursome’s early scenes have a savage snap where Dennis smacks Polly for being too strong, and sneers at Seth for being too weak. Seth can’t change a tire or drive stick, and while he’s working on a doctorate, it’s in biology, not in something useful for writing illegal prescriptions. Costanzo plays the first half like Woody Allen under fire—he’s all brains when everyone else (including Polly) values brawn. He’s a good foil for the brutal Dennis, and when screenwriters Kai Barry, Ian Shorr and Wilkins make the unlikely team lean on each other for survival, their bond feels earned.
The blood in Splinter runs thick and black—it’s nightmarish. Wilkins shoots death scenes with the frenetic editing of a car chase. However, he’s smart enough to drive our pulse to a techno pace in long, still takes of the gang waiting for the next attack. Their rural gas station locale is an apt spot for a last stand—they’ve got every makeshift tool at their disposal, but they’re in a small building lined with windows, and they’re up against a microscopic bloodsucker that feels no pain, even when it snaps off the fingers off its host and crawls, Thing-like, through the late-night sliding drawer. Production values are strong, neither showily arthouse nor B movie. And once audiences get over snickering at a creature that they initially write off as a rabid hedgehog (too bad that Geoffrey Rush film already snatched up the title Quills ), they’ll be happy to strap in for a satisfying ride.
Cast: Jill Wagner, Paolo Costanzo, Shea Wiggam and Rachel Kerbs
Director: Toby Wilkins
Screenwriters: Toby Wilkins, Kai Barry and Ian Shorr
Producers: Kai Barry and Ted Kroeber
Rating: R for violence/gore and language
Running time: 82 min.
Release date : October 31, 2008