Splinter (2008)
Directed by Toby Wilkins

Starring Jill Wagner Paulo Costanzo Rachel Kerbs Shea Whigham

A very efficient and effective (for its budget) zombie-infection-sci-fi-thriller, "Splinter" bears more than a passing resemblance to "From Dusk Till Dawn." Both films feature bad guys who kidnap their victims, then become good guys when everyone concerned is pitted against a monstrosity so evil that everyone's survival depends upon working with each other. In the case of "FDTD" that monstrosity took the form of vampires at the Titty Twister bar. In "Splinter," it's a complicated life form that takes over the bodies of its victims and turns them into stumbling zombies with broken limbs.

After opening with a scene that demonstrates the sci-fi/horror evil about to be at work (a gas station attendant is attacked by an apparently rabid animal with porcupine-like spikes), the film introduces us to its good guys: a nice yuppie couple that anyone can identify who are too wimpy to even put together a tent during a camping trip. So they drive out looking for a motel. The guy is a super nerdy Woody Allen-type biologist (played by Woody Allen type Paulo Costanzo), married to an athletic and resourceful uberhottie (Jill Wagner). It isn't long before they are tricked into letting an escaped convict (Shea Whigham) and his drug addict girlfriend (Rachel Kerbs) into their car and are quickly carjacked.

Naturally, their car overheats and the foursome are forced to pull over at the gas station, and it's at this point that the movie really starts. Splinter-like protrusions from a dead animal they came across on the road have infected the drug-addict girlfriend, who metamorphises into what appears to be a lumbering, stumbling zombie with broken limbs and plenty of protruding spines. Luckily, the biologist is able to explain to us what is really happening: The girl has been taken over by a splinter-like growth that takes over her body in search of human blood. She's not alive at all -- but the splinters are. Hence the lumbering and stumbling, and broken limbs. Best yet, it means severed body parts -- like hands -- can chase after our heroes forced to hole up in the gas station convenience store.

After a while, the trio realize the key to survival is to stay in the cold -- the splinter beings go after warm body heat. Unfortunately for them -- but fortunately for the viewer, because the movie would have been over in five minutes otherwise -- all phone contact to the outside world has been cut off. They are trapped inside the store to fight for survival as the splinter creatures outside infest anyone who happens to come along, most notably a stupid state trooper.

"Splinter" delivers all the goods in terms of gore, suspense, story, action, even believe-ability (which is amazing given how ludicrous the underlying concept behind the movie is). Director Wilkins is obviously a major talent, and he crafted a phenomenal little movie with a miniscule budget. He got plenty of bang for his special effects buck (makes sense, he used to do FX) and also assembled a great cast who deliver well rounded performances -- particularly Whigham as the ex-convict.

Yeah, it's not too original. It borrows liberally from "The Blob," "The Hand," "Night of the Living Dead" and of course "From Dusk Till Dawn." But it's effective. Go check it out.

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-- Review by Lucius Gore

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