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Spikes at the Gas Pumps

MOVIE REVIEW
Splinter (2008)

5-1
Magnet Releasing

Let’s forgo the exposition and come right out with it: Anyone looking for a horror movie fix at the multiplex this Halloween will find every bit of what he or she is looking for in “Splinter.” Or he or she would, were the movie actually opening on more than four screens nationwide. I’ve given up trying to understand how these decisions are made, but surely the folks at Magnet Releasing could have done more with this brutally efficient genre exercise than they have. The film lacks star power and comes from a first-time director, but it’s an ideal antidote to both the glossy PG-13 horror fluff that so often manages to get a wide national release and the tired brutality of the “Saw” franchise.

The tightly wound narrative presents one of those claustrophobic challenges that Hitchcock would have loved. A felon named Dennis (Shea Whigham) and his druggie girlfriend Lacey (Rachel Kerbs) hijack a couple celebrating its first anniversary. Car trouble leads them to an abandoned gas station. When a mysterious, spiked creature kills and reanimates Lacey – and it becomes apparent that it will quickly attack anyone that moves – Dennis, Seth (Paulo Costanzo) and Polly (Jill Wagner) hole up in the station’s convenience store, desperately searching for a way out alive.

Toby Wilkins directs all this with an assuredness that belies his rookie status. He understands how to build tension without overdoing it, and he puts a premium on the psychology of the human interactions. The screenplay by Kai Barry and Ian Shorr never bestows the characters with the sort of superhuman abilities typically given to their counterparts in lesser genre entries. They respond to their predicament as ordinary people would, with a mixture of great fear and great resolve to survive the night. The actors bring an unexpectedly naturalistic feel to their performances and their refusal to embellish things permeates the entire production. “Splinter” comes across as gritty and realistic as any movie about three people trapped in a convenience store and facing off with a supernatural villain with inexplicable abilities ever could.

SPLINTER

Opens on Oct. 31 in Manhattan.

Directed by Toby Wilkins; written by Ian Shorr and Kai Barry; director of photography, Nelson Cragg; edited by David Michael Maurer; production designer, Jennifer Spence; creature design by Ozzy Alvarez; produced by Mr. Barry and Ted Kroeber; released by Magnet Releasing. Running time: 1 hour 22 minutes. This film is rated R by M.P.A.A.

WITH: Charles Baker (Blake Sherman Jr.), Jill Wagner (Polly Watt), Paulo Costanzo (Seth Belzer), Shea Whigham (Dennis Farell), Rachel Kerbs (Lacey Belisle) and Laurel Whitsett (Sheriff Terri Frankel).

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