Hedgehogs really aren’t that scary. A little bossy, maybe. So in the first few minutes of Splinter, when a random gas-station attendant gets attacked by a small, spiny critter, you think, My, that’s perturbing. But Toby Wilkins, the movie’s British director, has darker horrors in mind. A young couple on a camping trip (Costanzo and Wagner) gets carjacked by an escaped convict and his methed-out moll (Whigham and Kerbs). Rolling along the Oklahoma countryside at gunpoint, they hit an animal, causing their tire to grow strange black spikes. Is that a gas station ahead? Soon enough, major characters are spitting up black bile and doing a jerkier variation on the “Thriller” dance.
Splinter is a monster movie, as earnest in its own retro way as 1958’s goo-goofy The Blob or 2006’s enjoyable Korean import The Host. Unlike those films, Splinter introduces a parasite with very little brain matter to speak of, political or otherwise. What does it mean that spines are growing out of people? Must it mean anything? Not especially, but it would help. Yuppies and white trash bond in the besieged snack shop to conquer a biological terror, but class tensions rarely flare—a missed opportunity in red-state America. Meanwhile, you’ve got some pretty decent beasties, including a malevolent update on The Addams Family’s Thing, stalking around on five digits. If the minimart hadn’t been so well pressurized by last year’s The Mist, this indie would seem a touch more creative. Instead, it’s a pesky hangnail, easily removed with tweezers.