Writer/director David Bryant’s low-budget shocker is a remarkably assured psychological thriller that sets itself apart from the usual jump-scares. Yes, it’s largely a one-man show, and yes, it’s largely set in one suburban location in Hastings, England, and these are usually a tough couple of obstacles for a micro-budget feature to overcome. But by dint of some imaginative cinematography and committed performances, Splinter gets a dark, cerebral drama over the line, without wasting a second of a commendably brief 72 minute run-time.
With over 135 imdb credits to his name, Bill Fellows is a well-established actor from Coronation Street to Ted Lasso via Dowtown Abbey, but takes centre stage here as John, a man who comes home one Christmas to find his wife and son have been murdered. We skip forward six months to John trying to pick his life up again, but can’t bear to open the curtains, or take down the decorations; he seems trapped in the worst moment of his life, and despite the well-meaning interventions of a kindly psychiatrist (Jane Asher, yes that Jane Asher), John finds himself the potential victim of several mysterious forces. Are his neighbours out to get him, could it be the house itself, or does the mysterious Bobby (Michael McKell from Allied, Prizefighter) have something to do with his torment?
‘You’ve opened a door in your brain and someone has walked through,’ is the sinister suggestion, but the small steps to sanity that John aspires to prove hard to take. For John, keeping the curtains closed means that he can’t see who’s loitering in the street outside, or work out who might be putting threatening notes through his letterbox. Of course, in a twisty-turny story like this, we know that the central figure may or may not be reliable, and Fellows manages to give a nuanced, complex performance here, empathetic when he needs to be, and yet also possessed with a mania that suggests a mental vulnerability within…
Splinter eventually provides the cathartic, bloody action that a psychological thriller needs, and the result lands somewhere between Jacob’s Ladder and Fight Club. Working closely with cinematographer Leighton Wise, who also has a co-producer credit, with crisp editing by Chris Burton and an unnerving Adam Langston score, Bryant manages to use forced perspective and other tricks to suggest how the house itself can represent John’s fraying mental landscape, making for an unassuming but rather effective little thriller. And it’s always a bonus to get a brimful of awesome British cinema icon Asher, who has made her way though so many key works like Alfie and The Masque of the Red Death to The Stone Tapes and Brideshead Revisited. Asher’s presence, plus careful work all round, should help Bryant and Fellows get this out to a wider audience than most indies.
Gravitas Ventures are distributing Splinter on streaming in the US from today Nov 22 2022.