Monday, October 7, 2013

Movie Appraisal: Splinter (2008)

Well, this sure was a movie. Why did I want to see this again?

For whatever reason I had bought this movie, clearly intending to enjoy the hell out of it. For reasons unknown I didn't watch it until now and have completely forgot the reason I wanted to watch it in the first place. Not that it's a bad movie at all, it isn't, but it's also certainly not the kind of movie I usually enjoy.

It's another movie with few scares, little true fear shown, and much more about characters, zany snarky lines, and gore effects. And yes, the gore effects are good. No, the CGI is not. And oh man, is that Ax from the Animorphs TV show as an adult?


Man. He's exactly what I expected him to be. He looks almost literally exactly the same. He has almost the same face on and everything. That's freaking uncanny. Wow. I like the film for him alone. Him as an actor. Not him as a character. Because his character, Seth, is a dumb person. PhD in Biology, my ass.

Anyway, while this was a fun film to watch, it was incredibly frustrating. As you may or may not know, I am a biology man. I did biology in school, specifically microbiology. So, it's kind of my thing. This movie either does not understand biology or has a character who has forgotten everything about being a biologist. I mean, seriously. Wow. This kind of incompetence is inexcusable.

The premise is simple. There's a biology experiment gone awry. A spiky mold fungus of some sort or another has gotten loose and is infecting animals. Enter Seth (Paulo Costanzo (Ax)) and his girlfriend Polly. They are a nice normal couple who fails at camping in the woods and succeed at getting their car hijacked and getting kidnapped by a strange couple: Lacey, who is addicted to some drug or another, and supercopetent Dennis (Shea Whigham). Well, eventually their shared kidnap car runs into a spiny beast on the road, setting up the whole idea of the "splinter" as seen in the title. Dennis gets the splinter in his finger while moving the tire away from the car.

The splinters and the creatures seem to be some kind of mold or fungus of some sort. They take over the biological elements of a body and can live completely independently of a brain. While this is wholly in the realm of science fiction, it's kind of an interesting idea. Technically a mold could infect something and use nerves, temperature sensors, and biological elements of the "body" or "limb" to reanimate it. You would expect a brain to be the focus of an attack (and with mind-altering parasites this is ALWAYS the case in real life), but these can and do reanimate limbs, fingers, and pieces of the body.

Okay, scientifically suspect, but I'm interested.


Anyway, eventually they get to a gas station where the rest of the movie takes place. Lacey and a cop who comes to "help" them get killed by the murderous mold. The other three hold up in the gas station's convenience store and are completely ineffective at doing anything for most of the rest of the movie.

It's here that I should mention that mold has a few things that can easily dispose of it, which would probably exist in a convenience store. One is bleach. The other is fire, which they use at the end of the movie to kill the mold zombies. The problem is, why didn't Mr. PhD in biology Andalite Bandit figure this out? I know it from the biology I've seen, which should be quite a bit less than a PhD student. Mold doesn't like fire. Well, most things don't like fire. Why didn't they make a torch, or douse the creatures in flames and watch them burn? Why did he have to go to a complicated plot of having his body temperature lowered nearly ten degrees when all they had to do was burn things until they no longer moved? It just seems so needlessly complex and idiotic. I would have gotten in there, seen that the things were mold or fungus based, looked at the lighters, matches, kerosene and GAS STATION, and went, "Let's burn these fuckers."

I was screaming that most of the movie. It was a bit annoying that they didn't figure it out until almost the end.

Well, those are my complaints about the biological elements of the plot. Besides that I actually had a good time watching it. While it is basically a zombie film, it handles the situation differently enough that it stays fresh and interesting, being reminiscent of Pontypool in that respect. The movie also somewhat reminds me of The Last of Us, that new-ish video game by NaughtyDog that I'll be reviewing shortly. Both have "zombies" based off of molds or fungi, even though both are incredibly different in the way that they behave. I like how the spines work here, basically as syringes to inject into hosts. It makes sense to work that way.

One other thing I should mention is part of the movie reminded me of The Evil Dead movies, specifically when Dennis' hand/arm starts going haywire and needs to be chopped off. I liked that scene a great deal, and it was the only piece of the movie that actually made me uncomfortable in a good way. While incredibly gory and completely expected, it worked very well from a viewer's standpoint.

I do have one other complaint before I get into performances. I did not like the directing of this movie at all. I understand that there was probably a conscious effort by the director to hide the budget (or lack thereof) by any means necessary, but shaking the camera every which way and clearly not showing important details like WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON IN EVERY ACTION SCENE is a pretty big problem. I did not like that one bit. So, Toby Wilkins, the director of this movie, shame on you for using such terrible shots in this fine movie. I would recommend this movie if it weren't for that.

The acting is pretty solid though, and does a lot for this movie that other elements simply cannot do. While there is very little tension in the film, and even fewer scares, the characters are interesting to watch, and each of the main three actors' performances are really fun and full of energy. Shea Whigham and Jill Wagner are both very good in their roles, with Paulo Costanzo being more of a silly buttmonkey, but he is Ax, so... no surprise there, I guess.

Anyway, I won't recommend this movie even though I liked it just fine. I think it's a solid film, but I have no idea who it would be made for. Gore fans would think nothing of it. Horror fans wouldn't be scared. And normal people would avoid it. Maybe biologists would enjoy it? Maybe that's the demographic it's trying to appeal to. Well, if that's true then I hope every biologist goes out and watches this movie. I recommend it to biologists and only to biologists.

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