Yesterday, we discussed — among other films — Frank Darabont’s The Mist, which examined what happens when groups of people in extreme danger start to turn on each other. One of today’s films, Toby Wilkins’ Splinter, takes a bit of a different tactic: it examines what happens when disparate groups of people are forced to work together in the face of inexorable peril. The resulting film isn’t much cheerier, but it is a little more optimistic about the human condition.
It’s a grisly little tale, to be sure. Essentially, monster movies work from one of two viewpoints: we’re either trapped in an enclosed space while the monster wreaks havoc on the outside world, or we’re in the thick of it with the monster, sharing the same environment. Splinter, like The Mist, focuses on the former; Bong Joon-ho’s brilliant The Host gives its angry sea monster a wide open world in which to roam free and wreak havoc. Both approaches work nicely, and both films function as sterling examples of the new-model monster film, a genre that seemed to have run its course a long time ago.
The flinty parasites invading a gas station convenience store in Splinter are perhaps more terrifying in the long-term. It doesn’t hurt that there are real characters at stake here: consider that, in probably 85% of your favorite horror movies, your heroes are mere archetypes. Not so, here: the core trio of roughneck Shea Whigham and terrorized lovers Jill Wagner and Paulo Costanzo, they’re fresh out of another, more dramatic film. They arrived fully-formed, as characters, as beings; it’s almost so naturalistic that you don’t think about it until you realize that you care about what happens to them. Take into account that, when the parasite monsters are encountered, Whigham is taking the other two hostage, and you have a wonderful fortune of thematic misdirection. Many great horror movies do this: remember when George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino took Harvey Keitel’s family hostage in From Dusk Till Dawn? And at the Mexican border, they encountered — well, no, I won’t spoil that for anyone. But it’s always fun to see a movie that functions ably as one kind of film before veering sharply into another type entirely. It’s as if, during the first terrifying attack in The Strangers, the home invasion was interrupted by a zombie uprising.
The Host isn’t nearly as grim, or maybe it is. It’s hard to tell, really; it’s so in love with the language of cinema that it throws bone-chilling terror, heartbreaking melodrama, and gut-busting comedy at the wall to see what sticks, and often in the same scene. Still, Bong Joon-ho — who achieved nirvana several years later with the same mixture of tragedy, comedy, and suspense in his off-beat psychological thriller Mother — knows what he’s doing, and he’s got an assured hand with the material. The monster’s first attack is a doozy: as a day of frolicking on the waterfront is drastically interrupted by a sea monster rising from the depths, he achieves a sort of kinetic chaos that easily tops the controlled, beat-by-beat action of most modern disaster pictures. Moving, funny, suspenseful — The Host is crafted with such artistry, such love, that it’s impossible to ignore. And taken with Splinter, both poles of the modern creature feature are represented here.
Extra Credit: A very real candidate for this countdown, I can’t stress to you how wonderful Matt Reeves’ Cloverfield truly is. The found-footage gambit works like gangbusters, switching perspectives on us once again: for once, we’re not looking over the city as it is upended, but we’re staring up from the ground, and we never know any more than the characters do. Plus, the Hitchcockian gamble of not showing the monster until the very end works out gloriously.
More 31 Days of Halloween:
Day 1: May
Day 2: The Night of the Hunter
Day 3: The Descent
Day 4: Night of the Demons
Day 5: Them
Days 6 & 7: Night of the Living Dead // Dawn of the Dead
Day 8: Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon
Day 9: A Tale of Two Sisters
Day 10: When a Stranger Calls // Amusement
Day 11: A Nightmare on Elm Street
Day 12: The Orphanage
Day 13: I Know What You Did Last Summer
Day 14: Dressed to Kill
Day 15: Deep Red
Day 16: Jeepers Creepers
Day 17: Black Sabbath
Day 18: V/H/S
Day 19: Sleepaway Camp
Days 20-22: The Mist, The Shining, & Silver Bullet