Splintered is a nicely atmospheric take on the monster in the woods concept. Unfortunately, despite being nicely executed, the end result is a rather ho-hum experience as the story crams too many elements together in haphazard fashion. It is a case of having a bunch of good ideas and trying to use them all rather than paring down to a scant few and developing them better. It is far from a waste, but it is also pretty clear that there is a better film inside trying to fight its way out.
This is the debut feature from co-writer/director Simeon Halligan and he demonstrates a good eye, taking the darkness and all the gray that comes with it and making it interesting. He shows skill in creating atmosphere and tension, even when story elements work against the creation of such things. Sadly, this battle of visual narrative versus plot narrative bogged me down through much of the film.
Story begins by introducing us to Sophie (Holly Weston). A troubled girl with nightmares suggesting monsters and possibly sexual abuse from her youth. For some reason — possibly in an attempt to deal with the nightmares — has convinced a group of her friends to accompany her to North Wales where there have been reports of livestock being killed and farmers attacked. The believed culprit is a fox, but Sophie is thinking something more monstrous is at work. Possibly a werewolf?
Anyway, the friends trek out to the woods and inevitably become separated (splintered?). Sophie and John (Sol Heras) hear something and follow it to an abandoned orphanage. They are attacked and Sophie spends much of the rest of the film running, screaming, and hiding under beds (there is probably a drinking game to be made about this fact). The rest of the group spout some boring, uninteresting dialogue and provide bodies for the body count.
To complicate matters, there is a rogue priest on the hunt for the same thing Sophie is looking for. This leads to further story complications involving the origin of the orphanage and the involvement of priests in creating this monster. Oh yes, if you thought this was going to be about a killer fox, guess again. It is not really a spoiler to call this a monster movie because it is and never disguises the fact; however, it does provide a bit of a twist on expectations.
The tale is littered with flashbacks, to the point of overuse. It sometimes feels like they are beating us over the head to remind us that it will all mean something later. It seems to be a bit lazy, like they could not be bothered to integrate enough hints into the narrative to let us know. As it is, everything is rather forced together in the end, leaving me wondering why. We are given hints of Sophie’s nightmares, facts about the school, the origin of the monster, but that is all they are, hints and facts, not story elements to draw us in with the characters. Flashbacks are no substitute for actual character development.
I did like the more realistic direction they took for the monster, but I cannot say I ever felt scared of it. While the use of shadows, washed out colors, and the rundown abandoned building all helped create an atmosphere of dread, the acting, dialogue, and weak screenplay worked against the effectiveness of the setting. Then there are those flashbacks again, slamming all of the story elements together to make us believe they all fit, while actually doing nothing more than confusing the point and killing the momentum.
Audio/Video. The film is presented in a ratio of 2.35:1 and I cannot say that I am terribly impressed. While the director seems to work well with shadows, the resulting look of this transfer is dark and gray at the expense of detail. The film was shot digitally using the RED camera, and seems to have gone through a deal of desaturation leaving mostly blue and green tones. It just looks really flat, many sequences get lost in the dark and the dark seems more gray than true black. Details seem to have gone missing as well, even in closeup faces do not have the clarity one would expect in High-Definition. I found it disappointing.
Audio is represented by a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track and I found this to be a bit of a mixed bag. On one hand it is nicely restrained for a horror movie soundtrack. There are jumps evident but nothing like I am used to in his genre. Surrounds are used nicely for ambiance and work well around the orphanage. My problem comes with the sound of the dialogue (not the accents, although a subtitle track would have been welcome), it is the way some of the dialogue seemed to lay on top of everything else and not match with the respective location of the character onscreen. For example, there is a scene with one of the guys in the background talking to two others in the foreground and it sounded like he was in the room with me rather than on the far side opposite me on the screen.
- Behind the Scenes. This is broken down into 10 different clips covering a variety of subjects from the genesis of the project to the effects to the casting. They run a total of approximately 40-minutes.
- Deleted Scenes. Nine scenes, including two alternate endings, that did not make the cut.
- Trailers. Two teasers and the theatrical trailer are included.
Bottom Line. Splintered is not a bad movie, but it is a disappointing one. It has good production values, pacing, and a decent lead performance from Holly Weston, but the rest just failed to ignite the senses. I really wanted to like it but I couldn’t. That said, I would love to see what Simeon Halligan could do with a solid screenplay. I think it is worth watching by genre fans, if for no other reason than to see the start of a budding talent.