A Terror To Get Under Your Skin
In a remote gas station in the woods of Oklahoma, something deadly emerges. It feeds on wildlife. It takes the life of a bored station clerk. Now, a young couple and the criminals who have taken them hostage must put their animosities aside to escape a killer unlike anything they could have imagined. Unfortunately, they are far from help, no one is coming, and the thing that lurks is only getting bigger. This is Splinter, a 2008 horror starring Shea Whigham, Paulo Costanzo, and Jill Wagner.
What we have here is something that is unlike most other films you will see. The concept of a biological organism that infects and absorbs its prey through attachment via splinter-like barbs was new when I first saw this movie in 2008 and has not been replicated over a decade since. The tone and atmosphere give this film a dirty feeling and almost make you feel like you need a shower after viewing. It being set in a gas station may be the cause as much as the disgusting creature. I always see gas stations as being barely clean, like you can lift a rug and find the mountain of dust swept under it. The location in the woods and the country look of the first victim adds a backwoods feeling and a real sense of isolation, which is always an essential need in good horror.
The acting of Splinter is decent. Shea Whigham is something of a household name now over a decade later, with acting credits in works like Boardwalk Empire, Joker, and Kong: Skull Island as notable titles on his resume. His performance here isn’t show-stealing, but he still puts forward the best acting in this macabre as the criminal Dennis Farell. Seth Belzer and Polly Watt, played by Costanzo and Wagner, respectively, are the young couple that Farell takes hostage in the early stages of the plot. Costanzo plays his role as the nerdy Seth well and sinks effortlessly into the role. He is crucial in establishing what we come to know about the creature and how to survive its onslaught. Wagner is the only weak link of the trio as far as performance. The other two have unique characterization, but Polly felt more like eye candy for the viewer. I found her performance to be wooden at times, and the least believable, falling into a category that resides in too many horror films of being there for sex appeal. Wagner tries to keep up with her male costars, but I found myself at times cringing at her sometimes stiff acting.
When it comes to the scariness, the atmosphere, as I had noted earlier, plays a significant role in the unease and tension. The creature looks as dirty as the locale and makes you as afraid that it will touch you as the characters are. The aspect that it infects you with sharp barbs is especially chilling. We have all had a splinter at some point or had something sharp break the skin. It is an unpleasant feeling, to say the least. We all know even the lightest of touches to the smallest of pinpricks can lead to sharp pain to the tender flesh below the epidermis. So, you can imagine just how dangerous this rabid specimen is. It’s like The Walking Dead in that as soon as the skin is broken, you have two choices, become infected, or cut off what you can before this biological entity breaks you apart bit by bit.
The Splinter creature is a gruesome mess to behold. It grows with each kill, melding with each torn apart victim like mashing Play-Doh together. Unfortunately, you never get a good look at it. Instead, you see it through its frantic writhing through shaky-camera work and most times against a dark backdrop. They use a common trick from earlier creature features of catching the thing at fast glimpses. Then, it was thought better not to see all of the monster, only seeing it close up and in flashes, saving the full view until the end. But here, the whole thing may not have looked as imposing as what the imagination could conjure, which is why you don’t get a clear full look. Despite this, I think now, in 2021, many of us may have outgrown the shaky-cam technique, which may make the climax of this film nauseating for some viewers. Still, there is plenty of gore for the gore fans. There are plenty of mutilations, twisted corpses, and blood galore that more than makes up for what you don’t see.
In all, I would give this film a 4 out of 5. This was a fun ride that didn’t take itself too seriously and did not drag. I watched this film on Vudu for free. You can also watch it on Tubi, Pluto TV or rent it for $3 on YouTube. It’s not a great scary movie, but it is worth the watch. In a time when many horror movies looked too similar to one another, this one stood out from the rest. It’s different, memorable, and would make an excellent addition to your Halloween watchlist for the coming season.
Splinter (2008) Official Trailer