At a time of year when people like to take a break from the real horrors going on in the world for a little Halloween freakout fantasy, Splinter is creepy enough to keep you on pins and needles for the duration, while at a safe enough distance in the audience. Directed by UK special effects whiz Toby Wilkins (Red Dragon), Splinter tosses in a little eco-terror too as genetically defective psycho fungi go mobile, and get a rabid hunger to attack and devour creature flesh, while inexplicably sprouting quills.
After the camper runs over the prickly monster in question, the couple on the lam and their two hostages in tow stop at the gas station to fill up the tank, now leaking after being pierced by those roadkill splinters. Soon the tables are turned as the humans find themselves barricaded collective hostages of the moldy monsters who are scampering about, when not engaging in a little flesh-devouring rooftop dining on half a state trooper who stops by, enough said.
Tensions abound in high alert mode throughout, while egghead biology grad student Seth locks horns with the redneck fugitive, in a conflict that sheds light on which social class might have the best survival skills in an emergency situation. There’s also a life lesson to be learned here, when not breaking out in a collective audience cold sweat, about just what convenience store items qualify as coming in handy while warding off danger all around. And in odd moments of emotional disorientation, the hostages begin to bond with their menacing jailbird captor with an in the closet heart of gold, as amputated hungry hands chase them periodically around the store. This, while the primary suspense lies in who will get fingered next, literally.
The scenario does veer into silly mode when the bio major takes time out to study the behavior patterns of the homicidal human porcupines, and figures out that since they like their dinner hot, he can outsmart them by turning himself into a human icepack, in effect a savior on ice.
Splinter does manage to get a grip on some thorny issues at hand, while excelling in fairly creative scaring skills. On a side note, no digital animals were likely harmed in the movie.