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In Association with
Splintered (2008)
Director: Simeon Halligan

review by Paul Higson

It is quite something of a coincidence that I should see Simeon Halligan's Splintered on the same day that I pick up C.P. Lee and Andy Willis' The Lost World Of Cliff Twemlow: The King Of The Manchester Exploitation Movies, as the book includes the first detailed coverage of Leslie McCarthy's 1988 film Moonstalker. Both movies have a regional base in the northwest (though Splintered is shot in Wales), and both take has their cryptozoological starting point famous British cases of big cat phenomenon, Exmoor and Bodmin Moor respectively. In both films the big game turns out to be nothing feline but instead something biped. I cannot compare the two films as one remains unseen, but the comparisons do not remain with one film alone, yet to one to possibly one hundred, from The Beast In The Cellar to Castle Freak.

Splintered proves to be a frustrating viewing experience. Technically it has everything going for it. It is well shot and edited, has good production values, a great find of a location for the central action to take place in, solid sound continuity and production design. Alas, where the film falls down is where it matters for a film most importantly and that is in the telling. The story is routine, characters have not been developed and the dialogue is bland. I found myself at the end of the screening with a notepad and no notes because there was simply nothing noteworthy to take down on the film. Worse than that it allowed my mind to wander...

This is deeply annoying as there has never been a better time for seeing great horror films and many of them are coming from our own slight shores. The trend for directors trying to save money by writing it for themselves rather than seeking out that capable and imaginative writer seems to something we are moving away from. Jake West has made his best film to date by engaging the talented Dan Shaffer to write Doghouse. The Children, Chemical Wedding, and Dorian Gray are more examples but there are still those like Leigh Dovey's The Fallow Field that buck the trend, and when a director can make a script work then he should be left to do just that.

A few short years ago a check over all the new British feature films listed in the Edfest film guide showed that almost 90 percent of the films completed were scripted or co-scripted by the director, irrelevant of genre, which is one reason most speculative scriptwriters might consider giving up. Then again another reason that so many films are scripted by the directors might lie in the fact that they are writers who have given up on shifting their speculative scripts to a market that is not buying them and moving instead into directing for themselves so that the scripts can be made. This clutters the market place even more, making it all the more difficult for all, particularly those directors who originally failed to engage with writers. You reap what you sow. Still, this is not entirely the case with Splintered as it did have a second hand in the script with Mat Archer, which only makes the results more to be despondent over.

There is no excuse for the story content of Splintered particularly when it can clearly be observed how much consideration and energy went into the filming process. It is a highly professional shoot but the result is like an overlong show-reel. The film screened at Grimm Up North over the Halloween weekend at the Manchester Printworks. There was a brief technical fault on the soundtrack when soundtrack was heard but not the vocal track. This was fixed and the film begun again. I mention this so as not to confuse it with what later occurred as the actual soundtrack is sometimes too noisy on sound effects so making some of the dialogue indiscernible. Other than that there are no other technical complaints. The continuity was strong, which in terms of story here, does not amount to much, but in terms of filming it was perhaps fortuitous that it should screen the same weekend as The Descent: Part 2, as Splintered had none of the other movie's discrepancies or rule breaks.

The story simply has five attractive young boys and girls camping in the woods investigating some big cat activity and falling prey to... well, that small surprise I will withhold... a horror holed up in a large deserted boarding school. Capture, escape, capture, bloody death, timely arrival of a priest on a mission, escape, bloody death, revelation, bloody death... When it comes to the revelation and a historical flashback the film almost rises into the territory of comical embarrassment. The gibbering lunatics at the story's erratic heart respectively resemble Bernie Wrightson's Frankenstein and an outcast from Deathline. The overacting of the gibberer in particular becomes irritating. Splintered also curiously reminds one of Terry Bourke's Night Of Terror from 1974, a film that reduced the elements of storytelling to the minimum and completely dropped its dialogue. But that film instead adversely took on the fucked up aura of an experiment... and a colourful and lurid one at that, while Splintered remains controlled and staid. Chris Jupp's Beast is another film which opens with a big cat which might not be everything it seems and though a film less technically proficient it at least maintains interest, through a mixture of guile and adverse appeal. Professionalism amounts to nothing if the content is not there.

It is unfathomable that any new film now should try and get by without a half decent script. Grimm Up North also screened the feisty and outrageous new American shocker Someone's Knocking At The Door where the dialogue is highly quotable from line to line and zips along in a furious fashion. Splintered on the other hand relies on death knell clichés like "Go! Save yourself" and "He didn't make it!" Use of these staple lines does not automatically qualify a film for post-modernity and neither is there any sense that the ironic is what Splintered was aiming for. "He didn't make it!" No youth outside of a movie would say that! In the age of Skins! (of which I am no fan, but as crass as the series is it strives for character and does exploit the language of the day) something closer to real teen-speak exists and younger viewers expect more too these days. They are unlikely to respond well to the coy scenes of teen interaction and will guffaw at lines like "..but you're my soulmate!" The writers need to earwig on real chatter and lift from life. Splintered is populated with non-characters and the viewer has no reason to care about them or their fate.

Halligan is one of the organisers of Grimm Up North and this gives the Saturday evening primetime slot for the film a sense of favouritism, as though it was always aimed that Splintered would be the cheeky centrepiece to the weekend. The festival is the bigger success. It was not as imagined by its organisers but lessons have been learned and if it can continue to a second year then I think that there is a real future for Grimm Up North. (As with all new festivals the first year acts like a taster, and whatever problems arose, as they so often do at festivals, I found that any advance concerns I myself had regarding the festival were put paid to as restrictions were dropped and the programme did come through with some excellent films. Neither was I the victim of any major setbacks and the one cancelled film allowed me to see another film I would now hate to have missed. I was impressed by what was achieved even if the organisers were rightly concerned by the low points, but they would be magnified for them. Grimm Up North has the makings of something special in the festival calendar.]

Just as I know the organisers will learn from the first year of Grimm Up North it is so hoped that Halligan will learn from the response to his film. I refer not necessarily to the response on the night from its audience, which was positive, but from this and the coming reviews. There was a polite response from the audience, not unusual these days with a director and cast present, praising the film they had just seen. I really cannot believe that they believed it was that good and unfortunately if there is not enough honest opinion levelled at a filmmaker then he will make the same mistakes again. In the good old days, Halligan would have been reliable as jobbing director shooting scripts by Jimmy Sangster or Anthony Hinds and the result would be good horror films each time. Left to his own devices he is vulnerable.


Grimm Up North - Halloween horror film festival 2009

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