I recently had a chance to speak with Toby Wilkins, whose feature film directorial debut, SPLINTER, won six awards, including best special effects and picture, at the 2008 Screamfest Awards.
Wilkins comes from a visual effects background and has worked on the title sequences of such movies as RUSH HOUR 2, RED DRAGON, SCOOBY DOO 2 and BULLETPROOF MONK. And while working on Hollywood movies, which he's greatly enjoyed and has been a sort of "film school" to him, he's simultaneously been working as an independent filmmaker, making short films all that while. In fact, working on those bigger budget movies funded those personal endeavors, as it's very difficult getting funding for shorts.
As far as influences, the British born Wilkins was not exposed to as wide an assortment and easy access to movies as American youths are, though genre hopping directors such as Ridley Scott, David Fincher are among his influences. And that's the one thing he's primarily interested-- variety. For example, SPLINTER is a non-stop, gruesome monster movie, very fast-paced and relentless to the viewer. His shorts for Ghost House, TALES OF THE GRUDGE, which led to his directing the upcoming third GRUDGE movie, are very deliberately paced, as in those style of Asian movies. One of his shorts, KIDNEY THIEVES (2006) was a romantic comedy while STARING AT THE SUN (2005) is a thriller.
SPLINTER concerns a young couple who decide to go camping and then pack it in once their attempt at setting up a tent fails. On the drive to the motel they stop for a female hitcher, which is a mistake since her boyfriend hijacks their car. Before they go too far, they run over some type of animal, which blows out their tire. But this creature is infected with a type of mold, which has taken it over, and infects the bad guy when he's changing the tire. They go to a nearby gas station where the attendant is infected and tries to kill them. They barricade themselves inside and try to figure out how to get away before it can get to them. Although there's nods to THE THING, REANIMATOR, EVIL DEAD and, of course, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, the movie stands on its own. The monster is very unique and appears in two forms. One is a sea-urchin, spike form which is stationary and infects whatever comes its way. The other is when is possesses a body and takes it over, using it like a puppet. It just wants to feed on blood and it's incidental that it happens to kill its host.
When asked what his favorite aspect of SPLINTER is, he says it's the characterization of the actors and getting the audience to relate to them. Shea Whigham, who is a virtual chameleon actor, was the first to sign up. He portrays the criminal Dennis Farell, who kidnaps couple Seth (Paulo Costanzo) and Polly (Jill Wagner). Jill has quite a following, having been in BLADE: THE SERIES and with recent appearances on television shows, such as BONES. Contanzo comes from a comedic background and this is his first role that is breaking out of that mold. The relationship of these three characters changes throughout the movie and that's what fascinates Wilkins about such character driven movies as ALIENS or DAWN OF THE DEAD, how all these very distinct, individualistic characters interact with each other.
SPLINTER screened last week at the Austin Film Festival, where the movie was shown to a very receptive audience. The movie has a limited theatrical release in New York, London, Austin on October 31st and the distributor, Magnet, is offering for a short time Video on Demand for those who aren't in those areas. Further theatrical and the dvd release are still to be determined. Regardless, check out this movie. It's made my "Top Ten Horror List" of 2008.