I love independent horror. I love the resourcefulness of filmmakers who ebb the constraints of budget or talent with well intentioned imagination. Toby Wilkins is not of this ilk. The visual effects specialist turned director is either from a planet without tripods or has a crippling phobia of any structure that can hold a camera in place for more than three blinks of an eye. Things start off well enough, but once the story of a parasite that transforms its host into a heat sinking lump of flesh gains momentum any traditional appreciation for cinematography goes out the window.
SPLINTER devolves into a production that looks like a home brew YouTube film. High fluorescent lighting with steady shots wider than mid level rarer than unobtainium. And that’s just for dialog. When action goes down, of which their is admittedly a satisfactory amount of, SPLINTER devolves in to a 16 year old’s YouTube video on its fourth red bull filmed by an epileptic camera man with Tourette syndrome in the midst of a full on seizure having looked through the eye piece and seen the motion blurs of nonsense intended to cover up the shortcomings of visual effects post and practical. It is mind numbing in the worst way, mind numbing because it doesn’t have to be this way.
SPLINTER wouldn’t be so numbing without the promise hidden in the motion blur. The frustration is induced by an earnest desire to see the script done right. Sure Barry and Shorr’s treatment wears its THE THING wet dream aspirations on its blurry sleeve, but that’s acceptable because pseduo-bipedal amalgamations of once humans are never a bad thing. Well, except when filmed during what looks like an earthquake on the surface of a planet being devoured by a black hole at 9000 frames per second.
I’m also confused as to why this war on the senses was necessary at all. In the few hallowed moments in which the creature is kept center frame for more than two consecutive seconds it always looks like solid work. Either those are beautiful freaks of nature or Wilkins was going for a frenetic visual pace intended to mirror the panic of the script. The only problem is that it doesn’t panic the viewer. At all. It annoys the fuck out of them. Leave the shaky cam reserved for the first person.
The horror highs of once alive body parts assaulting those still alive might have been more tolerable were the downtime more involving. There is zero chemistry between the romantic couple at the heart of it, played by Paulo Costanzo and Jill Wagner. Shea Whigham is the only actor of the central trio to rise above the material and he’s not even the one the audience is rooting for. Not until the script pulls a sappy rabbit out of its hat, turning the me-first badass into a lame duck with a twist that should only be called a twist because of how unnecessary a change it is.
Normally I’d not harsh on an indie’s mellow because its ambition was outside of its reach, but SPLINTER’s ambition should have been within reach of any director with a cohesive vision no matter how logistically challenged the production was (note: I have no clue as to the production history here). It certainly should not have been such a challenge to convey an effects heavy number to someone who has built a career on creating visual effects. All things being equal, the remaining logic is that the picture’s unwieldy viscosity was intentional. That being the case, I can’t help but sadden at the lack of substance remaining on screen. It’s not a matter of hiding it from the viewer, manifesting a torturous balance between supply and demand a la CLOVERFIELD. The demand is there. Demand was there at the first glimpse of a man’s bones spontaneously breaking themselves, an effect that was done to wondrous awe in 100 FEET with no seizure cam necessary. It was supply what took a dirt nap.