Seth (Paulo Costanzo) and Polly (Jill Wagner) thought they were going to enjoy a nice weekend camping in Oklahoma. Unfortunately, as they drove out to the campsite, two unexpected things occurred.
First off, they got carjacked by Dennis (Shea Whigham) and his drug addict girlfriend, Lacey (Rachel Kerbs). Dennis was a murderer who had just escaped from prison so, needless to say, he really needed a ride.
Secondly, after getting a flat tire, the foursome pulled their vehicle into a lonely gas station. At first, it didn’t appear that there were any attendants at the station but that quickly proved to be incorrect. There was an attendant at the station but, unfortunately, he had been infected by a weird space fungus that transformed him into a homicidal monster. Soon, Dennis and his hostages are trapped as infected humans and animals laid siege to the station.
That’s the plot of the 2008 film, Splinter. Splinter is a good example of a genre of horror film that’s known as the “dumbasses get trapped out in the middle of nowhere” genre. I’ve actually driven through and occasionally even lived in Oklahoma and Arkansas and, if my memories are correct, there really aren’t as many deserted shacks and gas stations as you might think. But, in the movies, there’s at least a dozen sitting off the side of every country road. Inevitably, a character will make the mistake of going into that deserted building and suddenly it’s zombie apocalypse time! Or, if the zombies are busy, aliens might land. Or some hulking dude wearing a burlap sack and carrying an axe might show up.
It’s a popular genre, mostly because it exploits a very real fear. Anytime you enter a previously unknown location, especially if you’re alone and it’s the middle of the night, you’re aware that anything could happen. It’s probable that you’ll just run into someone working the night shift and he’ll make some awkward joke while you’re getting a coke out of the cooler. But it’s also possible that you might walk in on a robbery or a murder or a zombie outbreak or an alien invasion or Kirk Cameron might be there, forcing everyone to watch Saving Christmas. I mean, these things could happen! And then, what can you do? You’re stuck there, in an unfamiliar place. The only thing you know is that something nearby is plotting to attack you. That’s not something that we like to think about but the risk is always there. (For the record, I don’t believe in zombies, aliens, or Kirk Cameron but still….)
Splinter does a pretty good job tapping into those very real fears. Yes, the monsters and the deaths are memorably grotesque and there’s a lot of gore (for those of you who are into that) but the film is most effective when it concentrates on the claustrophobic atmosphere of that isolated gas station. From the start, the film creates a feeling of unease and, once the main characters find themselves trapped in that gas station, there’s not a slow spot to be found. Once a person or an animal is infected by the fungus, it becomes relentless in its efforts to destroy. Finally, the film is dominated by the great Shea Whigham, who gives a ferocious but charismatic performance as Dennis. Surely, I’m not the only viewer who watched this movie and thought Polly should dump Seth for the convict, am I?
Splinter is a good film for Halloween. Clocking in at 82 minutes, it won’t leave you bored and it will definitely stick in your mind anytime you stop by a gas station late at night.