While the thought of a vicious, hell-bent porcupine hurling itself at your face isn't altogether inherently scary, it's still not something you'd want to have happen to you. Before the credits even come up in Splinter, we see just such a thing as a solitary gas station attendant is enjoying his break with a beverage and a bag of chips. He hears something rustling, and then, BAM! Quills to the face.
Only, it's not a rabid woodland creature. This thorny thug is actually a mutating virus, inhabiting the body of whatever living thing it encounters, absorbing the nutrients, and then moving on to bigger and better prey. It attacks viciously and savagely, and ravages its host beyond recognition.
With many scenes and ideas reminiscent of The Blob, The Thing, and even The Hand (or if you want to get modern, check out The Mist), this non-"The" horror by way of sci-fi flick has a good pedigree… but turns out to be more of a mongrel. There's nothing actually (too) wrong with it; it's simply a too-tired premise with a too-long running time.
The meat of the movie starts off promisingly enough with Shannon Elizabeth and Screech out camping for "sex under the stars". Oh, wait… no, it's actually Jill Wagner (as Polly) and Paulo Costanzo (as Seth). Huh. You know it's men who cast horror movies like these, because it's never the dorky girl and the hot guy together, is it? Anyway, the two of them eventually fold up their tent and hit the road, just in time to pick up two very bad hitchhikers. Loopy Lacey (Rachel Kerbs) and gun-toting Dennis (Shea Whigham) just need a ride out of Dodge, but their plans are derailed when their commandeered car runs over… something splintery. The resulting flat tire leads them to the isolated filling station where, needless to say, they get their fill of sheer terror.
Splinter would have been a decent "Masters of Horror" episode, but there simply isn't enough story to sustain a feature-length film. Also, the constant, unrelenting use of handheld shaky-cam and the over-cranking effects get real old, real fast. I could barely get though the film thanks to the annoying opticals, which is a shame because it's otherwise well-shot in hi-def digital. It has some nice composition and a pleasing color palette (which is impressive, given the low budget extremely limited sets… the action mostly takes place inside the quickie-mart).
As for the creature itself, I personally didn't find it remotely scary. However, for what it is it's well-crafted and fairly unique. As the DVD extras entail, great pains were taken to make the villain seem organic by using contortionist-actors to mimic the mangled, infected human hosts. The bone-crunching and joint-creaking sound effects are very well-done, too.
The characters have some depth written into them and the actors are capable, but there is just something ultimately bland about their interplay. They do a few stupid things, which is certainly welcome and usually expected in a horror flick, but there's just so little wit, sparkle or pizzazz to the proceedings. If the movie must be humorless, then it should at least have a sense of dread and suspense. Everything you expect to happen, does — but it isn't satisfying. Even if the question of where the creature comes from is never resolved, I would have at least liked to have had a sense of mystery (I didn't know where the Splinter monster came from, and I wasn't the least bit curious).
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Reviewed by Staci Layne Wilson