OCTOBER 15, 2008
After a strong start, Screamfest has been middling at best until today, when we finally got a movie that delivered big thrills on an independent budget. Splinter is not a perfect film, but it’s fast paced and fun, which is more than I can say about the movies for the last couple days (Keepsake, anyone?). And I say this after damn near arrestable offenses in screening time etiquette.
I have no children, a daytime job (one I don’t really take seriously anyway), and my only nighttime obligation is to try to keep a decent K/D ratio on Halo 3. But that’s me. What about the other 270 people in the theater who bought a ticket for a 7 pm film that didn’t start until almost 9 o’ clock? Festival delays are hardly uncommon, but tossing the longest “short film” ever made (with its own Q&A to boot) into the mix is pretty shitty. Then there were technical delays, an intermission... come on now. I suspect it was a joint conspiracy between the theater, the parking garage, and Lucky Strike, who was holding the after party, to keep us there as long as possible. Less free beer, more parking fees. Suns of bitches!
But all was forgiven as the movie unraveled. It didn’t have the most original setup in the world: a vacationing couple is held hostage by escaped convicts, but then they have to band together against a common enemy, holed up in a single location. But director Toby Wilkins (who also co-wrote) knows how to play against expectations, and therein lies the secret of the film’s success. For example, one of the “bad guys” is clearly not so bad; she doesn’t want to hurt anyone, tells the more insane-seeming partner to calm down, etc. Clearly she will end up being an ally! Nope, she gets it first, and pretty early on to boot. And that’s just the start. Nothing’s Shakespeare, but I was continually surprised as to who sides with who, who plays hero, who shows his/her true colors, etc.
And that’s good, because it distracted me from getting annoyed at the camerawork during the monster scenes. The monster is pretty original and awesome, but you never really get a good look at it, because Wilkins, DP Nelson Cragg, and editor David Michael Maurer never let you. The camera is always jerking around, the cuts would give Michael Bay a headache, and everything is in closeup to boot. They claim that only 1% of it is CGI, so why they don’t show off their work is unknown to me. Like any good film of this type, they have other things to worry about besides the monster, which allows the film to have a great amount of suspenseful bits that aren’t soiled by the frenetic camerawork (which is relegated solely to the monster attacks), but it’s still a bummer.
It also looked great. It was shot on the HD something or other (I always like how the directors say exactly what camera. I wish I had something to get that specific about for what I do for a living. “Yeah I use the News Gothic font!”), and transferred to film. The image is vivid, and despite being shot almost entirely at night, everything is in focus and visible. Again, after a week’s worth of washed out DV films and/or DVD projections, it’s nice to see someone take pride in their film and put effort into giving it the best presentation possible.
Magnet is giving the film a small release; if you can, please check it out on the big screen. I miss having straight up monster movies without gimmicks (Cloverfield), and while I know damn well that the film won’t give Jaws a run for its money, I would like to know that I’m not the only one with an interest in such things.
What say you?