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Splinter Review – The Monster Attacks People Because That’s Its Job

Splinter Review – The Monster Attacks People Because That’s Its Job” width=”560″/>

Special effects dude, Toby Wilkins, has recently been tapped by Sam Raimi’s Ghost House Pictures to direct part three of the very tired Grudge franchise, which is weird because the Grudge movies (like the Saw films) are part of the current trend in horror that beat you over the head with Meaning, usually in the most obvious and boneheaded ways. The ghosts in The Grudge want revenge, Jigsaw wants to make people appreciate their lives, blah, blah, blah. Refreshingly, Wilkins’ horror debut, Splinter, is a throwback to the monster movies of yore. Here, the monster attacks innocent people because, well, it’s a monster and attacking people is part of its job.

Seth and Polly (Paulo Costanzo and Jill Wagner) are going camping to celebrate their anniversary. Unfortunately, they get carjacked by Dennis (Shea Whigham) and his meth-head girlfriend Lacey (Rachel Kerbs), which puts a damper on the romance. They’ll soon discover that the dampening has only just begun. Pulling over at a gas station they notice that things seem quiet… too quiet. Bingo! Cue the attack by the mold monster, a fungus that infects people when they prick themselves on its long, black, sea urchin spines. Once infected, the mold eats their brains and takes over their bodies, which is problematic because this mold, like most molds, doesn’t understand human physiology. When it wants to make its host walk, it bends them in ways human bodies weren’t made to bend, causing their bones to crack and their joints to splinter. Sometimes the host is dead, which is gross, but sometimes the host is still alive and the results are hideous, as if an invisible, demonic chiropractor is adjusting joints really badly.

The remaining members of our little band hole up in the gas station
mini-mart and there they do something totally unexpected: They act
smart. Seth is getting his PhD in biology so he has an excuse for being
clever, but the other survivors exercise their common sense: They make
tough decisions and sacrifices when they need to be made and refuse to
panic. This is almost unheard of in a horror movie where confinement to
a single location with a monster outside usually causes humans to a)
turn on one another, b) act like they’ve never seen a movie before, c)
underestimate the threat posed by the monster and make foolhardy
decisions and d) get killed. The lean, mean pleasures of Splinter
lie in the fact that for its entire running time, its characters do
what any audience member could imagine themselves doing in this
situation, which means that they use all the duct tape, lighter fluid,
coat hangers and fireworks at their disposal to give the mold monster a
run for its money.

The low budget precludes a lot of fancy special effects shots,
and the acting is similarly barebones and all business. Veteran
character actor Whigham, in particular, uses his time in the spotlight
to steal the show, giving a minimalist, David-Morse-ish performance
which results in him being able to sell long chunks of thankless
backstory with great conviction. Like Quarantine, Splinter
is a movie that wants to do nothing more than scare the hell out of the
audience. It’s a monster movie throwback with no frills, just
straight-up thrills. It’s got a small budget, a fistful of actors and
is set almost entirely in a mini-mart. But like a mini-mart’s microwave
burritos, it’s satisfying junk food that pokes you right where you need
to be poked at that moment. Nothing more, and nothing less.

Grady Hendrix is one of the founders and programmers of the New York Asian Film Festival. He writes about Asian film for Variety at Kaiju Shakedown and should have found something better to do with his life by now.

His nominee for the Monster-Hunter Tournament is Lam Ching-ying, Bruce Lee’s stunt double and the martial arts actor best known for playing the one-eyebrowed, vampire killing Taoist monk in movies like Mr. Vampire, Vampire Vs. Vampire, The Ultimate Vampire, The Musical Vampire, and many, many more.

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