Splinter is a 2008 horror-thriller movie directed by Toby Wilkins. Wilkins said the original script was a “classic siege movie” that interested him. The monster in this script was more generic, but he realized that an idea he and a friend had been developing about a parasitic creature would fit in well. Wilkins found the concept of a creature that takes over its host to be scarier than one that simply kills it. Like 28 Days Later and The Thing, he wanted his characters to briefly fight against the infection before losing their personality. Wilkins also wanted to introduce horror from the creature’s ignorance of how human bodies work and its resulting abuse of the host’s skeleton. To choreograph the jerky movements by the infected people, Wilkins used multiple performers, including a gymnast, mime, and stunt person. Most of the effects are practical. Shooting took place in Oklahoma City.
At a sleepy gas station, the pump attendant is attacked by a splinter-infected animal. The attendant’s body contorts. A young couple, Seth Belzer and Polly Watt, drive for a romantic camping trip in the forests of Oklahoma, but their plans are shattered when they are car-jacked by an escaped convict, Dennis Farell, and his drug-addict girlfriend, Lacey Belisle. The group gets a flat tire when they run over a splinter-infected animal on the road. They find shelter at the now-abandoned gas station.
Lacey discovers the horribly-infected pump attendant, writhing in the bathroom. She is attacked and is killed by the monster, but her corpse slowly reanimates and becomes a new creature, which attacks the remaining survivors. While fighting her, Seth, Polly and Dennis discover that severed pieces of the infected victims are capable of attacking on their own. Sheriff Terri Frankel arrives and attempts to arrest Dennis, but is ripped in half by Lacey’s corpse. The creature takes the top half of the officer’s body and bonds with it, becoming a larger creature.
The trio hide in the walk-in refrigerator when a piece of the creature’s arm attacks them. It is discovered that Dennis has been infected, as his left arm violently twists on its own. Seth and Polly amputate his arm to prevent the infection from spreading. Dennis explains that he had been pricked by a splinter from the dead creature they encountered on the road. Seth discovers that the creatures themselves are a fungus taking control of the corpses they infect and consuming the blood in the body, using the currently zombified host to seek out fresh and new hosts. Because of this, they hunt based on temperature and attack the warmest thing they can find.
By lowering his body temperature with bags of ice, Seth sneaks past the creature to the police car, while Polly and Farell distract it with fireworks. Seth discovers that, without the keys, the car and the police radio inside are useless. His body temperature rises again, forcing Dennis to leave the gas station to lure the creature away from him. The creature enters the gas station, and Dennis and Polly hide in the freezer. The discarded fireworks ignite the trail of flammable liquid, and the gas station catches on fire.
Seth retrieves a shotgun from the police car and helps Polly and Dennis escape. Dennis is infected after helping to keep the creature at bay while Seth and Polly escape. He shoots one of the gas pumps with the shotgun, and the creature is engulfed in flames, killing it. Dennis, still infected, gives Seth and Polly a key to a bank account, telling them to give it to the wife of a man he shot, who later died. Dennis shoots directly into the propane tanks, incinerating himself, the station, and any remaining infected corpses. Seth and Polly wander into the distance as other infected creature corpses lie dormant in the woods.
One of the strengths of Splinter is its clever use of the parasite as a source of horror. The creature is unique and terrifying, with a distinctive look and a deadly mode of attack. It latches onto its victims and spreads its spiky tentacles into their bodies, turning them into twisted, contorted versions of themselves. The parasite is also intelligent and adaptive, making it an even more formidable foe.
Another strength of the movie is the tight, focused storytelling. The movie takes place almost entirely in one location – a gas station where the characters are trapped – which creates a sense of claustrophobia and tension. The tension is further heightened by the limited cast of characters and the knowledge that anyone could be infected by the parasite at any moment.
The cast of Splinter is excellent, with Shea Whigham delivering a standout performance as the criminal Dennis. Whigham manages to make the character both menacing and sympathetic, which is no easy feat. Jill Wagner and Paulo Costanzo also do a great job as the trapped couple, Seth and Polly.
One of the most impressive aspects of Splinter is how it manages to be both gruesome and suspenseful without relying on excessive gore or jump scares. The tension is built slowly and steadily, with the parasite serving as a constant threat in the background. The movie also uses sound and lighting to great effect, creating an eerie and unsettling atmosphere.
Splinter is a standout horror movie that deserves more attention than it received upon its release. The movie offers a unique and terrifying creature, a focused and well-executed story, and excellent performances from its cast. Fans of horror movies should definitely give Splinter a chance, as it is a masterclass in tension and terror.
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