Written by: Vicenzo Natali & Antoinette Terry Bryant and Doug Taylor
Directed by: Vincenzo Natali
Starring: Adrien Brody, Sarah Polley, and Delphine Chanťac
Reviewed by: Brett G.
"This won't be human...not entirely."
The idea of humans playing God in the name of science and paying a steep price for it has been a staple of horror fiction for centuries now. First seen in Frankenstein, this theme has re-emerged time and time again, particularly in the post-atomic bomb monster cinema of the 1950s. As science and technology continues to advance, it only seems natural that artists continue to turn towards such a staple. While the nuclear age still casts a long shadow in modern times, the scientific community has turned back to the essential elements of the Frankenstein story itself: the creation of life, this time in the form of genetic engineering and DNA tampering. Out of this comes the latest effort in test tube horror, Vicenzo Nataliís Splice.
Lovers and scientists Elsa and Clive are at the forefront of genetic engineering. Theyíve recently managed to create a completely new species whose proteins will be used to help cure diseases in livestock. This achievement is just a stepping stone for the duo, who also intend on experimenting with human DNA to cure genetic diseases such as Parkinsonís and cancer. Their corporate sponsors rebuff this notion, citing moral and ethical concerns; however, this doesnít stop Elsa and Clive, who manage to splice human and animal DNA to create Dren, a feminine creature that ages at an advanced rate. Of course, test tube creature babies grow so up so fast--indeed, too fast in this case--and Dren soon becomes uncontrollable in the hands of her parental figures.
Splice is a time-worn tale, and everything it has to say has been said before. This is not to say that the film is uninteresting because it certainly is. Thereís a solid foundation here and the narrative is compelling enough in a train-wreck sort of way. This isnít an indictment on the storyís quality, but rather, the twists and turns it takes, especially in its final act. It rolls along fairly predictably up until that point before veering off into some rather interesting and awkward territory that you canít help but be curious about. Letís just say that fans of rape, incest, and inter-species erotica will be plenty satisfied.
Itís a bit of a whirlwind final act, to say the least. If only the preceding hour was just as interesting, Splice could have managed to be something special. Instead, itís a fairly uneven experience: part morality tale, part character drama, with a few nice scenes of suspense thrown in (one early scene feels pulled straight out of Alien). As previously stated, the moral dimension is a bit tired, as we all know how playing God turns out in tales like this. The dramatic, character elements are a bit more interesting; the back story involving Elsaís childhood provides a bit of motivation behind the madness, but doesnít feel adequately explored. However, the same canít be said about Clive, who is mostly there to play the voice of reason for most of the film. That is, until his curiosity gets the best of him and he decides to indulge himself for some unfathomable reason. Indeed, one might be able to swallow the inter-species attraction had Dren been more out of the Natasha Henstridge mold.
In the end, as wild as the narrative it does feel rather unbelievable. In fact, the film borders on some unintentional comedy at times. That it doesnít cross the line is probably a testament to the cast and crew. Brody and Polley turn in fine performances that bring conviction to their roles as lovers and scientists. Nataliís direction is solid and keeps the film from veering too far off into camp territory. The film never loses its serious focus for too long; Elsa and Clive have crossed many ethical and moral lines, and the film never lets us forget this because the couple experiences one disaster after another during their descent. The film is well-photographed and Cyrille Aufortís score is effective during the filmís creepier moments. One must also complement the work of those involved in bringing Dren to life: thereís actress Delphine Chanťac and an effects crew headed by genre legends Nicotero and Berger. The result is a completely believable character, from infancy to adulthood, where she becomes a more primal, out of control beast.
Ultimately, one wishes that the film had chosen to focus on Dren at that latter stage. When Splice is in full-on creature feature mode, itís at its best. Though itís always nice to see films strive to be more than this, Splice never really makes it work completely. With a moral concern thatís old hat and character development thatís a little too superficial, itís a rather cliche experience until it embraces its B-movie and exploitative roots. By that point, youíre invested just enough in the characters and the situation so that youíre interested to see where the story will go. If anything, the film does manage to be memorable because it does take some bizarre turns that are both a little creepy and a little awkward (let's just say that Dren even gets to experience that horrifying rite of passage of catching your parents having sex). Splice might not have anything new to say, but it does speak in a unique fashion. Had it gotten to the point more often and concisely instead of also talking in clichťs, it would have been more satisfying. Instead, the film is true to its title as it splices together too many elements from other, better films along with its own unique twists. The result isnít a cinematic abomination, but rather a creature that could have used a little bit more care and attention when it was being developed. Rent it!
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