As a horror fan, itís easy enough to be generous when it comes to assessing the indie efforts, to credit a title with having plenty of spunk and spirit and tongue-in-cheek humor, and to qualify it with making the most of a modest budget. However, the better ones nail enough of those other ingredients Ė clever concept, brisk execution, good effects, and better performances Ė to make excuses obsolete, and perhaps the best thing I can say on behalf of 'Splinter' is that the bottom line didnít once cross my mind for its duration.Clever concept: a pair of fugitives (Shea Whigham and Rachel Kerbs) take a young couple (Paulo Constanzo and Jill Wagner) hostage, only to have their getaway plans disrupted by a pretty prickly piece of roadkill. As it turns out, even the slightest contact with one of these parasitic barbs will come to cause oneís own bones to spike out and snap in every which way they ought not to.
Brisk execution: it doesnít take but ten minutes for our protagonists to find one another, and it takes maybe ten more for them to all make their way to the local gas station, where most of the action proceeds to take place. Itís a wisely confined environment, and one tapped for a reasonably impressive amount of impressively reasonable resources before the sum total of eighty minutes runs its well-paced course.
Good effects: first-time director Toby Wilkins has proven himself enough already in the field of visual effects to make them work on behalf of the storyís simple setting, instead of in spite. The practical techniques and spot-on sound work on display make every crack and crunch hurt, matching the creep potential of such a unique threat at every turn, and he isnít one to entirely flinch from the gorier moments when they do crop up.
Better performances: an interesting dynamic develops between the three remaining in the gas station Ė donít worry, I wonít name names Ė as their struggle for survival continues into the latest night and earliest morning. The roles are only as fleshed out as they need to be, and each performer does a fine job of filling in the blanks whenever possible; Iíll only draw attention to the fact that Whighamís increasing reliability as a character actor in parts big and small does not go challenged here.All in all, it comes together as a brisk, bloody, B-grade creature feature that doesnít drag and brings enough fresh talent to well-worn material to merit a look-see. For me to say that 'Splinter' had plenty of spunk or some such would be to sell it short; if anything, itís the rare modern horror flick that fans wonít feel the need to apologize for it.