Splinter (2008): Wrong Place, Wrong Time

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Directed and co-written by Toby Wilkins (uncredited with writers Ian Shorr and Kai Barry) Splinter is all about being at the wrong place at the wrong time. All the main (and not so main) characters get caught up in events just by being where they are at a particular time.

The film starts with a local “yokel” gas station attendant taking a break and sitting outside the station on a lawn chair and munching on some potato chips (crisps). Despite the fact that this station is obviously out in the middle of nowhere and surrounded by woods and wildlife, he thinks that a mysterious animal noise is nothing to worry about.

He seems to feel it is perfectly safe to approach what he thinks is a wild animal after some of his “Cape Cod” chips/crisps by walking toward it and saying, “I ain’t got nothin’.” After getting attacked by what looks like a messed up fox stole, we are treated to clips of his suffering while the opening credits roll.

We then meet a young couple, Polly Watt  (Jill Wagner)   and her live-in boyfriend Seth Belzer  (Paulo Costanzo) who are heading to the woods for an anniversary camp-out. It seems that Polly is a real outdoors kind of gal, while Seth is more of a let’s sleep in a hotel with great TV kind of guy.

While putting their tent up, they tear it and decide to go to a motel after all.

Meanwhile, we’ve also met Dennis Ferrell (Shea Whigham) and his doped out girlfriend Lucy Belisle (Rachel Kerbs)  their truck has broken down and Dennis throws their things away and pushes the truck into the ditch. They start walking. Destination, Mexico.

As Polly and Seth drive to a hotel, they pass Lucy who is flagging them down by the side of the road. When the couple stop their SUV and try to decide what to do, Dennis comes up to the drivers window and taps on it. Full of indecision the two in the car don’t move. Dennis finally takes his pistol and raps it on the window.

Jeeze, some gas station bathrooms, eh?
Jeeze, some gas station bathrooms, eh?

When Polly opens her door, he drags her out of the driver’s seat by her hair and dumps her on the ground. Dennis then takes the couple hostage and forces Polly to drive them. On the way, they hit something in the road that gives them a flat tyre. As they stop to fix it, Lucy insists that Seth come with her to check the animal out. She has decided that it is a pet of hers named Ginger.

When they approach the dead animal, it tries to attack them and Lucy shoots it and they run back to the SUV. Dennis has gotten some sort of strange black splinter in his finger from the flat tyre and he pulls it out. It leaves a black mark on his skin and it is quickly forgotten when the SUV overheats.

The little group then spy the gas station seen at the start of the film and decide to stop there for more coolant for the car. It is here that the main body of the film takes place.

From the very start of the film, everyone suffers from being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The gas station attendant picks the wrong time to take his break outside the station. He compounds his bad luck by approaching a wild animal and talking to it.

The two couples also “bump” into each other because of the same random nature of the events. Again being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The whole things segues into another random nature of the two couples winding up at the gas station where the whole thing apparently started.

Splinter could also be called a “because shit happens” film. The very nature of the Big Bad in the film is random and never explained. It doesn’t need to be though. We know already that it’s not very nice, it consumes everything it touches and when it touches you it’s going to mess you up until you die; painfully.

Seth the potential Phd’er realises that it is some sort of parasite, but that is as much explanation as you’re going to get. Ex-con Dennis finds out fairly quickly that bullets don’t really hurt the damned thing and his spaced out girlfriend Lucy is the first victim after they arrive at the station.

It has taken me three viewing before I could honestly say that I appreciated what the film does. I still don’t like everything about the film, I still find it inconceivable and a little stretching that this disparate group bond so well towards the end of the picture. I also did not care too much for either Polly or Seth.

The other character I  has a serious problem with was Lucy. The actress who played her, Rachel Kerbs, looks uncannily like a work colleague of mine from when I was working in the Prison Service. She looked so much like her that when she spoke on-screen in an American accent instead of the English accent that I knew my colleague had, it threw me. At that particular time, I did not care for this individual much and it put me right off the movie.

Even with all that crap on her face she still looks like my old colleague.
Even with all that crap on her face she still looks like my old colleague.

As time went on, we became more friendly and I decided that maybe I needed to see the film again, to see if the character of Lucy still looked like my old colleague and if it still put me off the overall film.

Well the character of Lucy (or to be more correct, the actress who plays her) still reminds me of my colleague, but as time has marched on, it doesn’t bother me like it used to. Toby Wilkins does a good job on the film and it entertains adequately. Of course he also directed The Grudge 3 which was celluloid excrement and not to be forgiven. I can only hope that the next venture he makes into the world of horror is more entertaining and not a dismal disappointment like G3.

Despite my previous decision to never review this film, I now feel that is unfair as the film really is not that bad. There are at least two moments in the film that left me weak with laughter and each time was because of the dialogue. Moment number 1: Dennis, Polly and Seth are trapped in the gas station and Dennis says, “Even help can’t help us.” Moment number two: Seth brandishing a utility knife is about to do some impromptu limb lopping; Polly says to Dennis, “Don’t worry, we’re going to cut off your arm.”

My final verdict is that it is at least a 3 stars out of 5. It would have gotten higher if it hadn’t been for the unbelievable bonding at the end of the film and the two funny bits of dialogue that I firmly believe were not meant to be comic relief.

Gas station from hell.
Gas station from hell.

Take notice of the film Take Shelter

 

After my abysmal experience watching the 2011 version of The Thing, I was going to give films a rest for a while.  But like a cowboy who’s been thrown off his horse, I decided to get right back in the saddle. I’m glad I did. Because if I had not, I would have missed the brilliance that is Take Shelter.

This brilliant “little” film was noticed by my daughter Meg. She had seen a trailer and it  piqued her interest. We decided to check it out. Am I glad we did.

Take Shelter is a film written and directed by relative newcomer Jeff Nicols. It stars Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain and Shea Whigham. Michael Shannon, fresh from working on Boardwalk Empire, gives a more than impressive performance as Curtis. Curtis is a typical “every-man” who is suffering from violent and intense dreams – or are they visions? He is also beginning to hear things. Jessica Chastain  plays his loving wife, who despite her anger and frustration at her husbands strange behaviour, supports him as much as she can. Shea Whigham is Curtis’s best friend who he has a falling out with. Tova Stewart gives an absolutely delightful performance as Curtis’s hearing impaired daughter.

I have, after watching this film, become a Michael Shannon fan-boy. He has an “old fashioned” look about him. He makes me think of a cross between two late actors, Vic Morrow and Chuck Conners. *Shannon is actually six feet three inches tall* He is well know for playing “twitchy” characters. I do know that he made me really care about his character. In fact all the main actors gave me the feeling that they were folks I have known or worked with.

The visions (?) that Curtis sees deal  a lot with some kind of super storm. He decides that he must improve their tornado shelter. Despite losing his job and not being able to afford it he continues with his improvement plan. He is also beginning to suspect that his visions are really some sort of mental illness. I cannot go any further into the plot of the film for fear of giving too much away.

This film looked beautiful. The cinematography is stunning and crisp. The writing is perfect, it allows the actors to fully flesh out their characters and gives the viewers a tense emotional ride. We spend almost the entire film worrying about whether Curtis is nuts or if he really knows something that no one else does.

I always judge how good a film is by how I feel when it reaches the end frame. If I immediately want to watch it again, I know it is a brilliant film. When Take Shelter finished, I did want to see it all over again.

Take Shelter is a little hard to fit into a genre, but, it definitely should be seen. It is a real shame that something this good did not even receive a nod at the Oscars.