Ever since making a name for himself with his feature debut, Cube (an excellent film, by the way), Vincenzo Natali has been someone of considerable interest to both fans of sci-fi and fans of interesting and unique films. Sadly, he’s never really managed to live up to that early promise. Cypher AKA Brainstorm was another excellent movie, seemingly seen by about 50 people including myself, but Splice is probably his most mainstream attempt to date and yet finds the director struggling to stay focused on the direction he wants to take, leaving the film a strange mix that doesn’t quite fit together. Ironically enough.
Sarah Polley and Adrien Brody are scientists Elsa and Clive (named after the leads in Bride Of Frankenstein, in a nice little pointer to the direction of the material). They’ve managed to create a completely new lifeform and are rightly proud of their achievements. But it’s not enough. They want to add some human material into the mix and start reaping the rewards. They think it’s the next logical step and that it will lead to a number of amazing medical breakthroughs. But the money people know that nobody is ready for that just yet and give a firm rejection to the idea. When did being told no ever stop some determined scientists though? Elsa and Clive go ahead, secretly, with their plan and create Dren, an intelligent and strange creature that grows much faster than they could have predicted and throws up all kinds of interesting possibilities as well as ethical debates.
As the opening credits roll, we see the names of our stars being imprinted on strange genetic material and this foreshadows what the whole film is about. We’re in the world of the classic mad scientist, albeit with people who don’t seem all that obsessed until each stage of the process provides more and more potential outweighing each subsequent risk. As Elsa says on more than one occasion: “what’s the worst that could happen?”
You have to admire Natali for trying, for getting the audience onside and then using some sleight of hand to take them to a very dark and twisted place indeed. There are the two main leads, both excellent actors giving great performances. The writing is fine, smart and conveying enough information to keep everyone up to speed while never feeling like the entire plot has stopped moving forward to fit in a grand exposition scene. And the FX work is top notch, Dren is a strange but also strangely cute creature. It’s unpredictable but also seems vulnerable, especially in the earliest scenes.
Audiences watching the movie will find themselves, hopefully, entertained for the first half of the film and mulling over the ideas that Natali puts forward for consideration (nothing really new but all interesting brain fodder). But when the rug is pulled out from their/our feet in the second half of the movie it’s just too severely done and instead of being rocked and then wowed most people will be left dazed and rubbing their coxic bone while wondering what the hell just happened.
There is plenty to like about Splice but the fact that the movie is just as much of a bizarre amalgamation of DNA as it’s central creature is something that won’t sit easily with many people. As a horror fan I enjoyed the darker, twisted direction that the latter half of the movie took but I can also see it as something far too “out there” for mainstream audiences. The way in which the film just simply tries to cram too much in is another problem: there’s a darkness in Elsa’s background hinted at but never really given enough attention, for example.
Take it as a rather basic morality play with plenty of trimmings and you should find enough here to keep your attention. Not quite an interesting failure but neither is it an interesting and resounding success.
DIRECTOR: VINCENZO NATALI
WRITER: VINCENZO NATALI, ANTOINETTE TERRY BRYANT, DOUG TAYLOR
STARS: SARAH POLLEY, ADRIEN BRODY, DELPHINE CHANEAC, BRANDON MCGIBBON
RUNTIME: 104 MINS APPROX
COUNTRY: CANADA, FRANCE, USA