'My sensibilities tend to be on the darker side,' says director Toby Wilkins. That sounds like an understatement considering that his feature directorial debut, Splinter, has a very memorable scene in which a severed hand comes to life. Yet Wilkins is not about gore for gore's sake. 'For me, the focus is on characters and situations, not just the whiz-bang,' he says.
Magnet Releasing, the genre arm of Magnolia Pictures, launched Splinter in the US on Halloween and Wilkins has been encouraged by the response from both hardcore horror fans and discerning critics.
The film won multiple awards at recent Los Angeles horror event Screamfest and had positive reviews from the likes of The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. 'It's been so amazing for a genre film,' says Wilkins. 'It's not a sequel, it's not a remake, it's not torture porn. There can be a factory mentality about low-budget horror films now and we tried to rise above the fray.'
Producers Ted Kroeber and Kai Barry brought Wilkins the script, a classic siege story set in a gas station where innocent people are pursued by a generic creature, and Wilkins remembers, 'I realised this creature living in my head for the past few years could live in this story.'
The project shot in Oklahoma for four weeks, taking advantage of local incentives. ContentFilm International is handling sales and has already signed deals with Icon for the UK, Australia and New Zealand, Square One for Germany and Presidio for Japan.
Wilkins, born in London but settled in Los Angeles for the past 14 years, previously worked in graphic design and visual effects. He started directing shorts in 1999 and took a manager after he co-directed the famed puppet series of trailers for the Sundance Film Festival in 2004. After that he wrote and directed his most ambitious short, Staring At The Sun, which played at Sundance and won best horror short at Screamfest.
A representative from Sam Raimi's Ghost House Pictures was on the Screamfest jury, which led to Wilkins being signed up first for a series of short projects for Ghost House and then to direct the company's The Grudge 3, which he recently locked after a shoot in Bulgaria.
The sequel will be released straight to DVD, which Wilkins says does not bother him. 'In my work, I've never shied away from all the different kinds of distribution - whether that's internet, VoD or even mobile phones.'
With Splinter and The Grudge 3 shooting back to back, Wilkins is now taking a step back to read scripts. And he is still enthralled with the concepts behind Splinter.
'There are no immediate plans for a sequel,' he says. 'But the idea of this creature that has no real brain and just wants to perpetuate its species - that's a very flexible concept and could lead to so many stories to tell.'