REVIEW: Splice [2010]

“I guess we’ll find out from the autopsy”

If you play with science you might get burned. Or is that fire? I guess the former is just as appropriate, especially when concerning a sci-fi horror flick such as Splice. Science can be very dangerous and absolutely uncontrollable like the flame scorching all in its path. Vincenzo Natali’s film may on the surface appear to be a message-driven story dealing with the moral quandaries of genetic manipulation, but it’s truthfully more a psychological study in growing up within captivity and what one would be capable of as a result. Clive Nicoli and Elsa Kast are playing God, creating a new organism, unknowing of what consequences their work may entail. The experiment begins as a way to prove they can take science where it’s never been before, but soon evolves into a hubristic journey of power, control, and the uncovering of hidden secrets in each character’s past and present. It’s a volatile mixture of clashing ideals and personalities spiraling out of control, so fast no one can pause long enough to ask where the horror all began.

Clive (Adrien Brody) and Elsa (Sarah Polley) are partners in the lab and in life, living and working together for at least seven years, looking towards more in their careers and personal lives. By manufacturing a brand new life form—two actually, a male and female named Fred and Ginger—they have become the first team to successfully splice multiple species into one living and breathing creature. The merit of their work is astounding and shows not only a promise for future discoveries in the field of curing diseases, but also in the synthesis of a powerful protein lying within the biomorphic, slug-like monstrosities. Like all scientists, the two have backers supplying the money that keeps their research alive, a corporation looking to take a step back now and bring the protein to the market for revenue. Clive and Elsa have other plans, however, as the breakthrough just accomplished has but one logical progression for them—the use of human DNA to blow the whole thing wide open. With a definitive “No” from their financiers and the comprehension that continuing on with human splicing is not only dangerous, but also illegal, their test-tube offspring Dren (Delphine Chanéac) is born.

I was very worried going into Splice because of what the trailer appeared to be showing. Watching Polley and Brody’s palpable fear as the armless organism is set loose within their laboratory gave me the kind of chills necessitating me to check it out. The second trailer, though, began to show footage of a grown-up Dren, a young woman with human characteristics offsetting the bald head, tail, and odd bisecting crease at the center of her forehead. This took me out of the psychological terror I so hoped to experience. The last thing I wanted was for Dren to become a co-ed female going around seducing victims in order to get her jollies, her fill, or just a little exercise. Taking that step made a seemingly original tale into the common drivel being churned out whenever a new, unique monster is hatched within a Hollywood connected mind. By all accounts it appeared the film would end up being one more mainstream misstep relegating real potential into just another derivative entry. And while some of this is true—Dren does become a surrogate daughter of sorts for her creators, but a lack of vocal chords keeps her out of the public—the fact of the matter is that this film will shock some people.

From the marketing materials and how my screening took place inside a mainstream theatre, I’m led to believe this is going to be a pretty wide release. I don’t quite know if many attendees will be prepared for what they are about to see. The indie sensibilities allowing a genre film of this kind to succeed above clichés definitely fight to take over the generic plot points that crop up. Once the true motivations of Polley and Brody’s characters are revealed, we discover the stakes they are playing with. Clive wants to take their relationship to the next level and look at getting a place big enough to house a planned child for the future. Elsa wants to live in the moment, though, she wants to be unencumbered by invisible restraints to evolve as life sees fit. So, when the prospect of going rogue crops up, she does so without a second thought, coercing her love into helping create Dren—a feat easier than he’d allow you to believe. In his mind the whole thing is an experiment, but in Elsa’s it becomes something to love, protect, and nurture. Their roles become reversed as he hopes to abort it, even after it’s birth into the world, while she does whatever is necessary to watch it grow. Tough decisions are made and actions are taken, many resulting in outcomes drastically different than initially desired.

Splice begins darkly, terrifying with its sense of the impossible and unknown being realized before our eyes. The middle than falls into genre traps and methods of convenience as bonds are forged and lies beget more until the inevitable occurs between Fred and Ginger, laying the groundwork for Dren’s third and final evolutionary leap forward. It all culminates into a pitch black, rough and tumble series of events concerning moral responsibility, sexual urges, and the possibilities of scientific speculation. Do not take the R-rating for strong sexuality and nudity lightly; the magnitude of where certain relationships go cannot be overlooked. Sometimes our own carnal desires become too strong to control. Seeing the question of how Dren could have developed a stinger of poisonous force, when no predatory animal DNA was used, answered with the simple fact human DNA was involved is chilling and understandable. I’ll admit to never thinking Natali and company would go where they eventually do, but the final scene is perfect in its orchestration from what came before. The audience I watched with—so unprepared for what was happening—did unfortunately laugh at inappropriate moments, taking me out of the film at times. Hopefully you’ll have better luck in that regard because Splice is definitely worth a look.

Splice 7/10 | ★ ★ ★

[1] (L-R) SARAH POLLEY as Elsa Kast and ADRIEN BRODY as Clive Nicoli in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Dark Castle Entertainment’s science fiction thriller “SPLICE,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
[2] DELPHINE CHANEAC as Dren in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Dark Castle Entertainment’s science fiction thriller “SPLICE,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures


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