starring Adrien Brody, Sarah Polley, and Delphine Chanéac
written by Vincenzo Natali, Antoinette Terry Bryant, and Doug Taylor & directed by Vincenzo Natali
Rated R for disturbing elements including strong sexuality, nudity, sci-fi violence and language.

Clive (Brody) and Elsa (Polley) are a pair of brilliant biochemists with complete autonomy to develop new products for a large pharmaceutical corporation. Their latest project is splicing together multiple types of animal DNA to develop valuable new proteins. However, what has them most excited is the idea of adding human DNA, a move their bosses forbid. Deciding to go ahead anyway, they create and bond with an incredible new life form named Dren (Chanéac), but terrifying developments make it clear that they have made a mistake.

Splice puts a rather interesting spin on the old Frankenstein story of mad scientists who have gone too far by genre-splicing a family drama allegory into its horror-style storytelling. The story’s central conceit is the way in which Dren becomes a surrogate child to Clive and Elsa, playing out a compressed arc from infancy to troubled adolescence as her “parents” are forced to deal with their own baggage. The result, much like the multi-species splicing performed by the film’s characters, is erratic, a bit unpredictable, and increasingly unstable, but certainly never boring.

Dren seems somewhat unique among movie monsters in that she is unsettling but not repulsive. She is not a sympathetic character at almost any point in the movie, but killing her never seems like the right thing to do. The right thing to do would have been never to bring her into being in the first place. Once that deed is done, the moral dilemma of her continued existence is an extraordinarily sticky one. However, her creators do not recognize for a very long time that what they have wrought is in fact a monster, and despite the fascinating design and development of Dren, they get most of our attention as events unfold.

Brody is an interesting performer to watch, but he takes a backseat to Polley in every way here. She proved herself in horror (having nothing to prove as an actress) in the surprisingly good Dawn of the Dead remake a few years ago, and she really sells an extremely intelligent character who makes a long string of poor choices. Her passionate enthusiasm and scientific curiosity sweep both her and her partner beyond the point of no return almost effortlessly. The poorest choice of the film, though, is made by Brody, who ultimately takes the movie in a deeply unsettling new direction with a completely outrageous decision that is not convincing for a single moment.

This serves as the catalyst for everything going to pieces in the final act, but it’s hard to hold that against the film too much. Across the horror genre as a whole, the two most common weaknesses are an escalating need to shock a jaded audience, and drawing to a conclusion without going over the top and betraying everything that has come before. The more interesting the premise, and the more portentous the build-up of it, the more difficult the movie’s task in finding a satisfying resolution, and Splice sets a high standard early on. In my view, it ultimately fails at both escalation and conclusion, but not catastrophically.

The movie’s most endearing flaw, though, is in trying to do so much. We’ve seen science go too far and create a monster many times before. However, the standard cautionary fable quickly splices in gender, body, and family motifs, and juggles them effortlessly. There are enough themes here for a dozen horror movies, and the ubiquitous reproduction and parenting metaphors are elaborate and multi-layered. I realize that not everyone goes to see horror movies looking for thematic depth and rich intertextuality, but when they’re present, everyone benefits. My point is that this is smart, thought-provoking stuff, much like the director’s previous Cube, and definitely a cut above the normal genre fare.

~ by Jared on June 4, 2010.

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