Magnolia is a company that's certainly got their finger on the pulse of horror cinema these days. I mean, from the excellent "Let the Right One In", to "Shuttle, and "Donkey Punch", this company's Magnet division (and the Six Shooter Film Series to which the aforementioned films belong), they're singlehandedly responsible for a good chunk of the best stuff I've seen thus far in 2009. The trend continues with Splinter; one of the most entertaining and ferociously original horror flicks I've seen in ages.
Seth (Paulo Costanzo) and Polly (Jill Wagner) venture into the wilderness for a weekend of camping in celebration of their anniversary. When things don't work out as they planned, they start back toward civilization in search of a motel, where they are carjacked by the fugitive Dennis (Shea Whigham) and his delirious meth addict girlfriend, Lacey (Rachel Kerbs). Dennis forces Polly to drive them to a nearby town where his money is being kept, but they are waylaid by a bizarrely disfigured woodland creature who crosses their path. The creature is covered with what appears to be spikes not unlike the quills of a porcupine that have punctured the radiator of Polly's truck. The quartet are forced to seek aid at an isolated and seemingly deserted gas station where Lacey - desperate for a fix - discovers the service station's proprietor in the bathroom, covered in a what appears to be the same strange mutation. The man attacks them, and Lacey, too, is infected, leaving Dennis, Polly, and Seth trapped inside the confines of the gas station while the symbiotic beast outside feeds and grows and waits...
Splinter is a gruesome, exciting, and refreshingly different sort of monster movie, with strong characters, a smart script, and great performances from Wagner, Costanzo, and Whigham (whose gentle mannerisms remind me of a young Gary Sinise). The direction by Toby Wilkins is spot on, with lots of close-ups and shaky-cam work (merged with the digital source that gives the film an almost documentary-like feel) resulting in an effectively claustrophobic and tense aesthetic.
If I have any complaints about the film it's with the relatively composed manner in which the characters acknowledge what it is they're dealing with. While Seth is a grad student majoring in biology, and it's understandable that the creature would fascinate him to an extent, I wasn't sold by his clinical detachment in a scene in which he assessed one of the "samples". I could understand this sort of reaction if he'd discovered the creature before knowing what it was capable of, but, under the circumstances, it felt artificial and pulled me out of the moment. Still, it's a small gripe for what is, otherwise, a remarkably efficient and effective monster movie.
Splinter pokes its way onto Blu-ray with a very nice 2.35:1 1080p transfer that boasts suitably cool and crisp colors, a nicely defined image, and an overall solid level of detail. This digitally shot film does sport slight grain in darker sequences, and a few moments where black levels are uneven, but, for the most part, this is a very appealing transfer.
The audio mix is fantastic, with a very immersive sonic soundscape created by the 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio track. Rears are given a nice, subdued workout, while satellites and center channels deliver the bulk of the action. Bass is strong and responsive with nary a hint of distortion, and dialogue is crisp and clear throughout.
Splinter comes fairly well stocked with extras (presented in standard definition), including a pair of entertaining commentary tracks - one with director, Wilkins and his cast, the other featuring Wilkins, cinematographer, Nelson Cragg, and editor David Maurer.
There are several featurettes, including The Splinter Creature, The Wizard, Building the Gas Station, Shooting Digitally, Oklahoma Weather, How to Make a Splinter Pumpkin, and a short EPK entitled HD Net Looks at Splinter which is, curiously, presented in standard definition. Rounding out the goodies are a stills gallery, and trailers.
Easily one of the best horror films of 2008, Splinter is a bloody masterpiece of a monster movie, with an engaging cast, slick direction, and a gleefully twisted sense of humor. It's a gory good time made all the better by a great Blu-ray presentation and a solid selection of bonus features. Horror hounds owe it to themselves to pick this one up!