Splice is an intriguing motion picture; an unusually thought provoking film designed to encourage questions alongside the shivers. The marketing makes the movie out to be a straightforward creature feature, in actual fact the property is something much cleverer and worthy of notice. Director Vincenzo Natali does eventually wimp out with a conventional monster on the loose climax, but until that juncture Splice marks a fascinating dissection of the ethical implications surrounding genetic engineering.
Elsa (Sarah Polley) and Clive (Adrien Brody) are scientists who specialise in the art of genetic splicing, a skill that has landed them the opportunity to help cure several major diseases. Against the orders of their employers, the duo decide to add human DNA into their genetic melting pot, hypothesising that such an act will help increase the speed and validity of their research. The result is Dren (Delphine Chaneac) a creature of immense prowess and intelligence, but also of undeniable innocence. Despite some initial reservations from Clive, the scientists let Dren mature, eventually forming an almost paternal bond with their Frankenstein creation. However others working in the lab begin to suspect that Elsa and Clive have a secret project on the go, which coupled with Dren’s increasingly hostile behaviour leads to major trouble.
The relationship at the heart of Splice is unusual, but this only adds further flavour to this unique endeavour. Clive and Elsa are both colleagues and lovers, an onscreen dynamic sold effectively by Polley and Brody’s equally believable turns. The addition of Dren (excellently portrayed by a feral Chaneac) brings some serious instability to the film’s central romance, a nice touch that further highlights the nasty consequences playing god can incur. Natali has done a great job of forging engaging characters and a somewhat offbeat onscreen connection for them to inhabit, flushing extra feeling into the visually subdued final product. Splice is quite a restrained film from a stylistic standpoint, Natali clearly placing more stock in his actors and writing than his ability to construct glossy images.
As a horror film Splice scores some sweet slow burn tension during the first 80 minutes or so, before forgoing some credibility in a finale overcome with boo moments and dollops of gore. It’s a pity the movie feels the need to mainstream itself come the climactic set-piece, underscoring some of the refreshing ideas bubbling under the preceding material in the process. Of course in the tradition of body-horror features Splice also opts to infuse a few shock and awe sequences into the game, not least a glistening sexual undertone that runs rampant in the film’s last chapter. Natali brings this arc to completion through a sequence that unsteadily walks the line between camp and obscenity, but until that point the carnal frustrations hinted at in Splice are of upmost interest and entertainment value.
Dren’s design is creative, but some of the CGI used to render her is suspect. Splice mixes prosthetics and digitals to depict its monster, the former far outweighing the latter in terms of quality. This aspect doesn’t particularly damage Splice as an overall film going experience, but the difference between the make-up and CGI in terms of realism is at times jarring.
The film blends together elements of movies like Jurassic Park (the anti-genetic engineering stance) and The Fly (icky horror with underlying humanity), and whilst it can’t boast to be as good as either of those offerings, Splice remains a valuable motion picture. To see it crumble so notably at the end is a major disappointment, but up until that point it’s a fixating and occasionally beautiful cautionary tale, which winningly has something important to say.
Director: Vincenzo Natali
Cast: Adrien Brody, Sarah Polley, Delphine Chanéac
Runtime: 104 min
Country: Canada, France, USA