Effective horror reveals the darker, uncomfortable to think about possibilities of the commonplace. Such is the concept of Toby Wilkins’ Splinter, starring Shea Whigham, Paulo Costanzo, and Jill Wagner and depicting the gruesome possibilities of stray splinters. When biology graduate student Seth (Paulo Costanzo) and girlfriend Polly (Jill Wagner) celebrate their anniversary with a camping trip, they run afoul of escaped convict Dennis (Shea Whigham) and his junkie girlfriend. Quickly, the situation worsens when an infection caused by a splinter unleashes a blood-seeking parasite that animates its deceased hosts in gory self-propagation.
From the outset, bookish Seth seems ill-equipped for the events before him. Unable to drive a stick-shift or pitch a tent, the student is no equal of the aggressively violent Dennis. However, brute force is no defence when parasitic splinters begin claiming the lives and bodies of people and animals. A remote gas station becomes the scene of the group’s struggle for survival as hostages and captor band together. Then, as the authorities prove no match for unleashed biological terror and the survivors have only the contents of the convenience store to aid them, hope for escape dwindles as the bloodshed increases.
Special effects crafted to induce shutters are the highlight of the film. Quivering quill-like splinters erupting from fresh wounds, flailing appendages snapping at brutally unnatural angles, and hastily performed beer cooler amputations may give squeamish viewers pause. As a bonus for genre fans, scenes centring upon a disembodied hand pursuing the protagonists pay homage to horror predecessor, The Evil Dead 2, as well.
The film follows survival horror conventions rather closely, briefly introducing characters, many of which quickly become fodder for the menace lurking in the isolation and darkness outside. Unsurprising characterizations and stereotypes aside, the movie’s monstrous infection provides an element of originality in its menace. In an era when biological terrorism is a reality and constant threat, the idea of such terror arising out of nature itself, devoid of political motive and reason, is a chilling concept, a sentient viciousness immune to diplomacy with only the single goal of existing.
Ultimately, Splinter is an entertaining, mildly gory movie, perfect for a weekend rental or horror marathon. Unlike some other survival horror entries, the fringes of the audience do not come from horrific acting but some actual cringe-worthy scenes of fantasy violence. Familiar conventions welcome horror fans back as warmly as the splinter parasite greets each new body it consumes.