2008, R, 82 min. Directed by Toby Wilkins. Starring Paulo Costanzo, Jill Wagner, Shea Whigham, Rachel Kerbs.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Oct. 31, 2008
Featuring as it does shape-shifting fungal porcupines from outer space, Splinter handily wins this month's "Whaaa …?!" competition by a huge, um, prick. Granted, the only other entrants are Saw V and Quarantine, but they're both masterful exercises in pure logic and conservative plotting compared with this wild ride into headache-inducing shaky-cam land. Splinter initially gets by on sheer weirdness alone; reanimated roadkill sprouting wicked-looking black spines is not a horror trope I've come across before. Too soon though, it metastasizes into just one more film about honeymooners and white-trashers trapped in a rural gas station by things unknown. It's a smallish subgenre, which also includes Stephen King's Maximum Overdrive and Robert R. McCammon's Nightcrawlers (the latter adapted by William Friedkin for CBS' mid-Eighties Twilight Zone restart), and it riffs on genre godfather George Romero's original Night of the Living Dead but manages none of that nightmare's doomster wit or gut-churning horror. Here, Costanzo and Wagner are a mismatched pair of young lovers – Costanzo's Seth is first portrayed as an emasculated, bespectacled wuss, Wagner's Polly as a leggy, blond überfrau – who are carjacked by Whigham's gun-toting convict Dennis and his tweaker squeeze Lacey (Kerbs) while camping out on Rural Route, USA. Whigham (Wristcutters: A Love Story) is the best thing Splinter has going for it. His bandit-on-the-lam skittishness plays into the film's overall sense of minor-league paranoia, but it's hardly enough to qualify as a groundbreaking performance. The only truly jarring moments happen in macro shots of the parasitic creature's nasty pokers extruding from the pores of the dead and soon-to-be-dead. It's a totally original concept, monsterwise, and appreciated as such, but you come away from Splinter feeling it would have made a far more effective short than the feature-length drag it is.