Friday, October 22, 2010

Splice (2010)

Being Film #7 in Hail Horror 5

There comes a point about three quarters of the way through Vincenzo Natali's SPLICE, his 21st century cross-bred homage to the Frankenstein story that significantly changes the stakes of what you've seen up to this point.  And you're going to make a split-second decision in your head as to whether you can accept that this is actually happening and carry on, or if you think a line's been crossed and you turn it off.  There's a small chance that you might think, "What's the big deal?  That's not so bad," and just keep watching, never giving it a second thought.

If you're one of those folks (or even if you're not), I urge you to read the always-awesome Vern and his review of the film, which goes into a lot of spoiler details addressing this moment.  Then think again about what you just watched, and either marvel or cringe at what Natali and company got away with in a mainstream summer release.

SPLICE is the story of Clive and Elsa, an aptly named pair of  punk rock hipster genetic scientists played by Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley.  I want to stress this description because the beginning of the film is fairly distracting and just a bit silly: Brody attends meetings dressed in slick checkered suits and ironic t-shirts.  Polley wears knee high combat boots and both work in lab coats covered in faux military patches.  I don't know what Natali's trying to get across with this, except to say, "Hey, look at us!  We're young and cool and brilliant and utterly incapable of knowing our limits!"  Actually, that's probably exactly what he was trying to get across based on what happens to them, but it seems so out of place at first, and then basically gets lost in the shuffle as the movie goes on.  Clive and Elsa have just successfully spliced together the genes of different animals and come up with Fred and Ginger, two phallic worm creatures whose proteins can be the basis for a number of medical vaccines and potential cures.  Great job, and for them the logical next step is to mix a little human DNA into the mix.

From here on in we're treading some familiar territory, as what happens is a twisted version of the Frankenstein myth, although instead of a lumbering, shunned gargantuan, we're treated to Dren, a delicate female with the legs of a bird and a tail with a nasty stinger.  What SPLICE does exceptionally well with this conceit is to have Clive and Elsa, whose relationship is on edge due to the whole child issue, come face to face with their problems in the form of the newly created life.  Yes, it's an experiment that was never supposed to come to term, but now that it's here, what are their responsibilities?  Where does the experiment end and being a parent begin? Natali does a great job in the second act asking these questions and giving Brody and POlley enough room to really address these questions both as scientists and as new parents, as Dren ages in short order from a tadpole-looking "thing" straight out of David Lynch's mind and into an exotic, beautiful young woman.

Lest you think this is another case of MONSTERS, where the promise of horror is nowhere to be found, rest assured: one thing Natali knows how to do is wring some genuine horror and suspense from a scene.  Early on in the film Clive and Elsa are summoned to the lab in the middle of the night: the experiment has come to term and is ready to be born out of a synthetic "womb".  It's a terrifically intense sequence, no one being sure exactly what's going to come out of the rapidly expanding bag.  Another, later sequence goes even further as Elsa and Clive, thinking they're about to kill the experiment before anyone finds out, soon discovers it's missing, having evolved into something entirely different.  The eventual unveling of Fred and Ginger and the effects of that is both horrific and utterly hilarious, not least because the scene has Brody and Polley dressed like rock stars addressing a science community of tuxedo-clad aristocracy.

The effects for Dren in all stages of her life are remarkable for such a small picture, and go a long way to making SPLICE a worthwhile experience - it's refreshing to see see something so alien, so different than what we've come to expect from a film of this type.  In her adult form Dren is played by Delphine ChanĂ©ac in an eerie, cat-like performance.  As she gets older and begins to express the questions and desires of any normal young person, the film gets better and better until the aforementioned pivotal moment in the picutre, where something you suspect might happen does indeed happen, with a gusto and relish that's horrifying...

...and then the film backs down.  As much as I enjoyed SPLICE for it's originality and willingness to address some interesting issues, instead of taking those questions further after, the film devolves into a "let's kill the monster" climax.  It's a little unsettling to see how quickly the unnamed sequence is glossed over to make way for a generic chase in the woods and the now I see it coming from a mile away ending.  It's almost like Natali was stopped from exploring the themes he was interested as soon as the film was picked up for major distribution.  What happens in its place isn't necessarily bad, just a bit too traditional for what could have been a truly creepy and substantial movie.  SPLICE is still a movie I would recommend for any horror fan looking for something different, and at the very least to provoke discussion as to what Natali was shooting for, how we feel about it, and what's left to do in a modern horror film.

Oh, that's right...THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE. We've come so far...


  1. A fine review of this movie, Chris. It's a twisted little film that reminds me of the early Cronenberg works. I need a second viewing now that it's out on disc. Thanks for this.

  2. I liked what SPLICE did for 90% of its running time, that I forgave its climax.

  3. I hear you, Tony. It really feels like a subversive middle finger up until the utterly rote ending. There are some wicked moments, although I do get really distracted by all the rock start posturing in the beginning.

    BTW - just posted Don't Look Now. Incredible...