Saturday, October 24, 2009


I happen to have come into possession of a Playstation 3 recently. A friend of mine came to his senses in realizing he's probably best off obtaining the degree and license for the post graduate education he's going to be paying for, instead of mastering the variety of stunts in Grand Theft Auto or learning to complete Metal Gear Solid 4 with as few kills as possible. I applaud this decision. And let's face it, if you're as obsessed with film as I am, Blu-Ray has been calling to you for a long time. I'm quite happy to take the thing off of his hands until his last year at school is finished.

Last night, I picked up a copy of Splinter on Blu-Ray while on date night with my girlfriend at Barnes And Noble. Splinter is yet another film which made a splash on the festival circuit and never a nationwide theater release. I can't really nail down a reason one of the major studios didn't pick this film up, because it could have done pretty well at the box office with the right marketing, but they passed on another good one. Magnet, the genre/foreign film arm of Magnolia pictures have been putting together a solid, respectable catalog of releases. They've added another title to that fast growing list with Splinter.

There's one thing I have to say up front. This was shot digitally. Digital filming can often lead to real problems with quality of image. Though it's usually extremely clear, it can produce an image which audiences in no way relate to being cinematic or of film quality. There's too much depth of field, the lighting can be problematic, any number of things can cause issues with digital filming. Though I appreciate the kind of grand, cinematic style of films like There Will Be Blood or No Country For Old Men and absolutely love the beauty of the photographic quality of the worlds they create, I in no way think it's an absolute necessity in making a good film or telling a good story. A good story, well told, is a good story, well told, and sometimes lack of quality in the image can be useful, depending on the story itself. I'm not mentioning all of this because Splinter has the problems so often related to digital imagery, I'm actually mentioning it specifically because it doesn't, and in the Hi-Def Blu-Ray format, it's gorgeous. Director Toby Wilkins and cinematographer Nelson Cragg really did a great job with the look of this film. It has some great warmth and depth in the spots it needs to and a very hard, icy cold feeling where it's needed as well.

With that out of the way, a short synopsis. A couple on their way to a hotel from a botched attempt at a camping expedition run into something they weren't expecting in the form of another couple. The two couples, then run into something even less expected as they continue on down the road.

That doesn't tell you anything, does it? Well, that's the point. You're better off seeing this one with as little information as possible. I'll give you one more piece of information, because it might specifically be the kind of thing to make you decide whether or not you're going to see it. It's essentially, a really well made monster movie.

Monster movies have made something of a comeback in the last few years, with both Feast and Slither making good money on DVD, Cloverfield raking in the dough in theaters, The Host making a big splash in the overseas market and a load of other films doing relatively well. Splinter is without a doubt one of the better monster movies to come along in a good while. It lacks the tongue in cheek, wink, wink, nudge, nudge, quality of Feast or Slither, the grandiosity of Cloverfield or the melodrama aspects of The Host. Don't get me wrong, if you've read through my entry A Decade Of Horror: And It Was Good, you know I really liked at least three of those films. The fourth, Cloverfield, was a fun film in the theaters, but specifically because of it's grandiose scale lost some of it's luster on DVD. No one's living room is quite the same as a theater full of people, and I've never seen anyone's living room contain a screen large enough to convey the scale of the monster.

Splinter avoids all of that because three quarters of the film takes place in a convenience store/gas station. There are a total of six characters in the film, from beginning to end, and a creature which is ingenious. Of the many things which work well in this film, one of the strongest is the choice to not linger on and show the creature off. There's none of the camera falling in love with the monster, holding a long, drawn out shot, as if the director is saying, "Look how cool my big latex covered monster is!" It's always shot from the point of view of the other characters, which makes it even more creepy and unnerving. It's a great example of the theory that you don't have to show the entire monster, but just aspects of it, to create some real tension and give the sense that the characters are in real danger.

It manages to be solid storytelling, with good performances, an interesting, unusual and unnerving creature, well designed and executed effects, and very well shot. This isn't the best film of the year, but I'm willing to bet that the statement on the cover claiming it to be the best monster film of the year is true. Splinter is absolutely worth a look.

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