A review of the film Splinter

Posted: May 10, 2014 in Archive posts, Journalism, Reviews

A film review from Death Ray #18.  As an added bonus, there’s an interview with the director too.

2008/82mins/18

Director: Toby Wilkins

Writers: Kai Barry, Ian Shorr, Toby Wilkins

Starring: Shea Whigham, Paulo Costanzo, Jill Wagner, Rachel Kerbs

Not shards of wood, but a thorny malevolent mould from the deep, deep forest.

Film: THREE STARS Extras: None

Independent filmmaking is where it is at in horror. All the best horror movies are made by eager young chaps with a desire to scare and a will to get it done right. It’s been that way since Dawn of the Dead. Splinter follows in this noble tradition, it’s not as good as the very best, like the Descent, say, but it’s near the top of the curve.

Seth (Paulo Constanzo) and Polly (Jill Wagner) are an unlikely couple, she’s an outdoors-loving gal who can change a tyre, he’s a biology nerd who appears practically helpless. They’re hijacked by a Dennis (Shea Whigham), a con on the run and his junkie girlfriend. After running over a mysterious creature, they find themselves trapped in a petrol station by a weird parastic organism that feeds off blood and uses living creatures as hosts. It’s nothing new (we’ve even had evil, parasitic plants recently in The Ruins) but does well in directorial, story and performance terms. Seth the nerd provides just enough exposition, the con is not quite what he seems and all of them have skills and attributes which are at least a little surprising. Director Toby Wilkins wrings plenty of suspense and scares out of his limited set, and good performances from his cast. The monster is imaginatively realised, and is never on screen long enough for you to laugh at it. Only a few, lingering seconds on a crap raccoon spoil the movie (incidentally, the only time we see a ‘splinter’ possessed creature in full daylight). It’s bad that this comes right at the start of the film, because it almost derails the venture before it’s out of the gate. Otherwise, a fine Saturday evening’s scare.

Shards of Fear

Q&A Toby Wilkins, director of Splinter

British born Toby Wilkins moved to LA to pursue his dream career in film. Originally a graphic designer, he’s now a director of no mean skill, as his solid horror flick Splinter shows us.

Death Ray: You’ve worked in many different aspects of the film industry. Has this helped prepare you for your role as a director?

Toby Wilkins: I spent my early career in post-production at a time when digital technology was rising to the challenges of filmmaking, I was learning to splice film as everyone else was forgetting how, and was conversely showing the old guard how this digital stuff could make everyone’s lives easier. Working in post afforded me the skills I needed to make my own films more cost-effective. I was experiencing the full range of production styles, from my own micro-budget shorts, to features that would spend more on a single effects shot than all my short film budgets put together. It was quite an education.

DR: What attracted you to Splinter?

TW: The script by Ian Shorr clicked with me. It reminded me of the films I loved as a kid, the siege-based movies like The Thing, Alien, Dawn of the Dead… It had an emphasis on the characters, it wasn’t another slasher/torture script, it had a real old-school horror heart to it. My friend George Cawood and I had been trying to find the right way to bring our creature concept to the screen. Splinter seemed like a perfect home for it.

DR: The petrol station. Was it real or did you build it?

TW: The location had been a petrol station at one time, but had been abandoned for years. It was basically a concrete box a month before we started shooting, our art department ripped the front off the place to install the windows I wanted, built a new roof over the pump area and a restroom. They bought and installed disused pumps, shelving, a walk-in refrigerator… it was an incredible feat. I wanted every detail to be as close to real as possible. Most of the stuff on the shelves was actual food or drinks, much of it was donated. Everyone worked really hard to pull it off, the movie wouldn’t have worked if that location didn’t feel real.

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