Audiences looking for straight up horror might be disappointed by the lower key thrills on offer from Splice, but those open to more thoughtful monster sci-fi will find a lot to love. It’s kind of a Frankenstein for the modern age with grave robbing and organ transplant replaced by the cutting edge in genetic engineering.
Sarah Polley and Adrien Brody are Elsa and Clive, romantic and research partners working in the field of genetics. Through animal genetic hybridization, they’ve created new customized life forms useful in the production of potentially valuable livestock pharmaceuticals. Being scientists however, their ground-breaking success isn’t enough and they’re eager to find cures for human diseases by applying what they’ve learned to human DNA. Playing god with animals is one thing, but tampering with the building blocks of human beings is a slippery moral slope and they must conduct their controversial experiments in secret.
Against the wishes of the company that funds their research, Elsa and Clive create Dren, a rapidly growing humanoid life form that combines human genes with those of various animals. Once their theories become reality, a whole series of ethical questions are raised. Though bizarre looking, Dren quickly grows into a thinking, feeling creature not all that different from a human child. She’s wholly unpredictable however and keeping her a secret becomes more and more difficult as she continues to develop and change. Soon Elsa and Clive are not only protecting Dren from the world, they might be protecting the world from Dren.
The CGI used to render Dren as an infant and to enhance the performance of actresses Abigail Chu and Delphine Chaneac as Dren matures looks like CGI, but it’s effective enough to keep you from thinking about the effects too much. They’re matter-of-fact and not overly showy in a way that would draw attention away from the story’s drama.
To that end, filmmaker Vincenzo Natali gets a couple of grounded, believable performances from Polley and Brody. They help keep the film on course as the story becomes crazier and crazier.
The film builds slowly and it saves most of the suspense for the final act. Even then, the action is never over the top. Natali is more interested in ideas than scares. The problem is that the ideas themselves aren’t all that original and none of them are fully explored. Genetics is a newish field, but stories rooted in the fear of overweening scientists playing god goes back almost as far as science itself.
Though it would’ve benefited from either a stronger commitment to horror or a more carefully considered working out of themes, Splice still works. It has a Cronenberg feel to it, though it’s less cold and often more humorous. It’s not perfect, but it’s a refreshing break from sci-fi without a thought in its head.
Splice. Canada/France 2010. Directed by Vincenzo Natali. Screenplay by Vincenzo Natali, Antoinette Terry Bryant and Doug Taylor from a screen story by Vincenzo Natali and Antoinette Terry Bryant. Cinematography by Tetsuo Nagata. Music score composed by Cyrille Aufort. Musical direction/supervision by Jean-Pierre Arquie, Amy Fritz and Marie Sabah. Edited by Michele Conroy. Production design by Todd Cherniawsky. Art direction by Joshu du Cartier. Starring Adrien Brody, Sarah Polley, Delphine Chaneac, Brandon McGibbon, Simona Maicanescu, David Hewlett and Abigail Chu. 1 hour 40 minutes. MPAA rated R for disturbing elements including strong sexuality, nudity, sci-fi violence and language. 3.5 stars (out of 5)
Filed under: Review
Tags: Abigail Chu, Adrien Brody, Amy Fritz, Antoinette Terry Bryant, Brandon McGibbon, Cyrille Aufort, David Hewlett, Delphine Chaneac, Doug Taylor, Jean-Pierre Arquie, Joshu du Cartier, Marie Sabah, Michele Conroy, Sarah Polley, Simona Maicanescu, Splice, Tetsuo Nagata, Todd Cherniawsky, Vincenzo Natali