Explorations of how trees transform into “monsters” seeking revenge against the human world that exploits them highlight the power of monstrous nature. But they also demonstrate how trees might fight back against their human oppressors, but they also tackle contemporary environmental problems and offer biotic solutions. In Splinter (2008), for example, alien “splinters” parasitically invade human carriers and turn them into monsters, a cataclysmic result that underpins the possible consequences of climate change, oil extraction, and exploitation of old growth forests. But Splinter also demonstrates how a biotic community advances survival. Splinter focuses on the invasion of wild nature by outsiders, but it also shows us what might happen if diverse groups cooperated instead of battling one another once the vines fracture the group. On the surface, however, the film highlights contemporary environmental issues: oil extraction and preservation of old growth forests. When Polly (Jill Wagner) and Seth (Paulo Costanzo) go camping to celebrate their anniversary, they disturb an Oklahoma old growth forest near a Mid-State Oil company experimental extraction field site despite a sign warning them to keep out and, perhaps, announcing the first eco-issue.
On the drive to a cheap motel after their tent collapses, Seth introduces the second environmental issue when he tells Polly the forest is nearly 400 years old. Because it “sucks for logging,” it is untouched, leaving trees like a post oak that Seth declares is at least 300 years old. The couple encounters a more immediate danger, however, when they pick up two hitchhiking fugitives, Lacy (Rachel Kerbs) and Dennis Farrell (Shea Wigham) and run over an animal infested with a splintering parasite. These deadly splinters flatten one of their tires and wound Farrell’s finger, heightening the film’s conflict and, perhaps, suggesting plant nature is fighting back through both parasitic splinters and the animal victims they produce.. As Sean Cubitt asserts (2015), “What is remarkable about eco-horror is that often it voices the agony of what has no voice: animals …, but even more so rock, earth, water and air, and suffering Gaia” (pg. 232).
Splinter gives trees and animals a voice, but the majority of the film focuses on how criminals and victims must join together to escape the tree horror these splinters represent. The opening of Splinter has already introduced the deadly road kill and the main setting of the film. In early scenes we see an infected varmint attack a bored gas station attendant (Charles Baker). Their accidental altercation with an infested beast forces the now mixed group to stop for help at the same gas station. Instead of a haven, though, the gas station reflects the insidious nature of “Big Oil” in modern industrialized societies and transforms into the site of their battle against the splintering fungus-like parasite. Lacy is the first victim when the attendant kills her, infecting her body with the parasite. Now only Farrell and the anniversary couple remain. To survive, they must work together, forming a symbolic biotic community that parallels the successful old-growth forest surrounding them.
Although Splinter primarily draws on the clichés of the creature feature, it also highlights the need for this biotic community, at least among disparate humans. When they work together, fugitive Farrell, “firecracker” Polly, and biology Ph.D. student Seth provide skills that ensure that at least two of them will survive. Seth’s responses to Lacy’s severed, mutated hand reveal his strengths. Seeing the animated hand transforms Seth into a “mad scientist” intrigued by the monster. He watches it follow him and explains, “it’s metabolizing.” “It’s feeding.” It’s “digesting blood.” It’s “absorbing the nutrients on a cellular level.” He’s intrigued because he has “never seen anything like it.” Later he explains that the splinters are parasites that consume like a fungus or a mold.
Polly and Farrell reveal their strengths after they retreat to a back room and face a locked back door. Because the now dead attendant has the keys, Farrell advises Polly to remove door hinges with a screwdriver. Together they plan to burn the parasites and attract a fire department to the scene. Farrell goes for motor oil, but Polly leads him to the lighter fluid. When this effort fails, and the parasites get in, Farrell again saves Seth and Polly, leading them into the shop’s refrigerated area. Seth draws on science once more when he lowers his body temperature to throw off the splinters. But it is Farrell and Polly’s more practical approach that saves them. Polly distracts the parasites with flares, shoots the splintered Lacy, and lures it into the flames. Farrell sacrifices himself for the innocent couple, blowing up the gas station and destroying the remaining splinters. Seth and Polly escape down a deserted road. But the last shots show old growth trees covered with oozing splinters. The film leaves us with a couple of messages: if criminals and innocents work together, they are more likely to succeed, paralleling a biotic community in the natural world, and if humanity leaves an old-growth forest alone—and perhaps stops extracting oil—splintered plants grow dormant, no longer monsters but trees.