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Splinter

Year: 2008
Production Co: ContentFilm International
Director: Toby Wilkins
Writer: Ian Shorr/Kai Barry
Cast: Shea Whigham, Paulo Costanzo, Jill Wagner, Rachel Krebs

Someone was a huge fan of The Thing growing up and got a backer to give them what look like one or two million to make their horror passion project. Their remit was pretty clear – a creature, tension and practical effects.

The result is a strange beast (no pun intended) that has the structure and backbone of a very effective and slick monster mash, but the performances stand out – and the reason why isn't altogether good.

They don't exactly undo any effectiveness the movie has, and the acting never tips right over in to obviously bad. The script obviously helped, but you can see where the leads are trying just the tiniest bit too hard. On top of that, the rules about the science behind the monster aren't very well communicated so it's not as effective as it could be despite plenty of good points.

Seth (Paulo Costanzo) and Polly (Jill Wagner) are two city slickers on what's supposed to be a romantic camping trip, throwing in the towel and resolving to find a motel instead after they struggle too long to put up a tent.

On the road out of the woods, they're tricked into stopping by escaped con Dennis (Shea Whigham) and his redneck girlfriend Lacey (Rachel Krebs), who take them hostage and tell the couple they're ferrying them to their intended escape in Mexico.

But the foursome hit something with the car that flattens the tyre, and while Polly is changing it (there's a recurring motif of Blake being such a useless urbanite he can't even change a tyre) Dennis is investigating what they've hit, getting spiked from some hard, quill-like spines in a congealed mass of blood stuck to the tyre.

They stop at a remote gas station that seems to be deserted, but when Lacey goes to the bathroom she finds the deformed and bloodied body of the attendant (who we've seen in the opening coda being attacked by the creature). It attacks and takes over Lacey and she's transformed into a bigger facsimile of whatever viral life form they hit on the road – covered in spikes and blood, her body horribly contorted and apparently under the control of some hungry alien parasite.

Seth, Polly and Dennis lock themselves inside to try and figure out what to do, shocked and terrified at the turn of events, knowing they have no choice but to join forces to try and get out alive.

From then on it's a fairly expected progression of horror set pieces (the cops showing up with the creature still skulking around outside) and plot (Seth, a biologist, figuring out it's fungal in nature and hunts by temperature). Terror will be had, blood with be spilled and heroics will be invoked. None of it's really unexpected but it's fairly well done.

And it would have been better still, but the other letdown is the creature. The monster's actual form is hinted at visually plenty of times, but unlike Jaws or An American Werewolf in London we don't get a glorious full frontal view of it during the climatic battle. Director Toby Wilkins uses so much shaky handycam it's as if he didn't have the budget to do the creature effect justice and he figured we wouldn't be able to tell if we couldn't see it properly.

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