Splice | Science Fiction | rated R (A, L, N, S, V, G) | Starring Adrien Brody, Sarah Polley | 1:44 mins
We’ve been seeing weird screenshots of “Splice” for months. I for one sure that such ad odd looking little thing will go straight to DVD, but in the last few months a few original mainstream horror flicks have been well promoted (Thank you, The Crazies) and here we have “Splice”. The premise is straight out of a dirt-cheap Sci-Fi Channel original movie: Selfish scientists (this time a committed couple, Sarah Polley and Adrien Brody) play God by splicing DNA to create a mutant creature that will go horribly wrong. But with the producing stamp of approval of Guillermo Del Toro and under the eye of director Vincenzo Natali (“Cube”), “Splice” is a slick and nicely twisted first-rate version of the tale.
A deliciously cooky dark-and-stormy night creature feature the likes of which we don’t get from Hollywood often, “Splice” finds two scientists on the eve of their genetic research about to be shut down, making a hail mary pass to combine human and animal DNA in an attempt to cure genetic disease. Their creation grows faster and stronger beyond their experimental planning, with Elsa (Polley)’s maternal instincts wanting to nourish her new creation and Clive (Brody) wanting to get rid of it. As the questional history behind Elsa’s desire to have a child come to light, we are left to wonder whether nature or nurture is the more reckless beast.
The creature effects on display in “Splice” are terrific. Thankfully Natali doesn’t follow the amature horror director’s rule that not showing the creature makes it “scarier”. We see the creature (named Dren) through the whole film, first as an incomparable prehistoric little thing who then grows into a half lady, half kangaroo/bat/fish thing. Just as the dragons were not personified in the recent “How to Train Your Dragon”, “Splice’s” strength is that it keeps Dren to her animal instincts, never fully making her human. This along with the methodically rolled out evolution of Dren keeps the audience on our toes about how much of a threat she really is. Dren is the star of the movie and actress Delphine Chaneac makes her cute, beautiful, creepy, menacing and tragic all without saying a word.
But “Splice” is itself recklessly combined of two halves. It is less a story of a creature run amok than it is about two unprepared, self-absorbed scientists thrust into parenthood. At first Elsa is the proverbial Eve picking the forbidden fruit, her blind belief in her own maternal instincts pushes the experiment forward against Clive’s warnings. Then the movie continues to flesh her out , and as her upbringing is revealed we get a look into why she treats Dren the way she does. Elsa treats her like a child, Clive more like an adult. A good concept hit again and again. These two leads become more and more grating as they continue to argue their way through the movie. With them dragging “Splice” away from horror or sci-fi and into melodrama.
Both angles of the movie tug at each other for attention, and the result is neither the parental story nor the creature feature amount to much of anything. Natali doesn’t ultimately go far enough with either and ends up splitting the difference, draining the impact out of the film with the final scene. Which is surprising because the movie goes pretty far into a lot of taboo territory before then (crazy mutant sex!). There is some cool stuff in here, well worth checking out. Of note is a great mid-movie sequence where a showcase of two of Clive and Elsa’s creations goes as wrong as it possibly could. Natali doesn’t skimp on the blood.
“Splice” works because it has more guts and craftsmanship then we are used to from movies like this. Natali doesn’t take it too seriously, hitting the more absurd moments just right for a dark, crazy laugh. There is a nice David Chronenbergian mix of explicit sex, weird creatures and gore, yet it doesn’t descend into camp. The ending, much ballyhooed by BloodyDisgusting, doesn’t shock as it does fulfill the movie’s most twisted impulses. It ends the film with a whimper instead of the promise-filled roar it came into the world with.