Looking at the posters and trailers for “Splice,” I figured it would be one of those movies studios typically dump on us in the month of January. You know, at the beginning of the year after all the Oscar bait has been released, leaving us with rancid crap that movie studios have no idea what to do with. How many alien movies have we been exposed to anyway? The fact that it got released in June spoke either of the studio’s confidence in the film, or to a sheer recklessness on the part of executive’s who figure it will tank and yet still make more money than if it were released in January. Go figure.
However, after hearing an interview with the director of “Splice,” Vincenzo Natali, it looked like it would not be your average B movie full of idiotic characters doing predictably stupid things. In fact, Vincenzo (cool name by the way) convinced me that he put a lot of thought into this one and was out for more than just scaring the audience silly. Plus, having Oscar winner Adrien Brody and one of Canada’s greatest exports Sarah Polley starring doesn’t hurt in the slightest.
“Splice” turned out to be a much better movie than I expected it to be, and I liked how it dealt with themes of science and the responsibilities of those who work in that field. Brody and Polley play genetic scientists who succeed in splicing together DNA of different animals to create a new hybrid species. One night, they become particularly adventurous (not to mention reckless) as they take their experiments to the next step. By splicing animal DNA with that of a human, they end up crossing both ethical and scientific boundaries, subsequently taking an enormous risk of destroying all that they have built up. Polley’s character sees no boundaries holding her back in the pursuit of amazing scientific discoveries, and you have to wonder just how badly is she fooling herself.
These two end up creating a female creature (it always seems to be a female in these movies) whom they name Dren (look in the mirror to see what it says backwards). Sarah Polley’s character of Elsa Kast is the one who nurtures it from birth and sees it as more than an experiment. Brody’s character of Clive Nicoli, however, wants to view it as nothing more as an experiment than as human. Clive goes against his better nature and of what he believes to be scientifically responsible as Elsa remains undeterred in raising Dren, who as the movie goes on, seems to have DNA derived from several different animals. But the movie takes some interesting turns as they later turn out to switch sides as this creature develops much faster than anyone could have expected. Towards the end, they discover that neither is more guilty than the other. Both come to realize just how far over the line they have crossed.
Vincenzo Natali is best known as the director of the sci-fi cult hit “Cube,” one of those movies I probably should have seen already but haven’t. It’s clear almost from the start that he has more on his mind than just freaking us out with cheap scares. With “Splice,” he allows his actors to make their characters all the more complex, full of flaws that really get the best of them (sometimes in the most cringe inducing of moments). The debate in regards to things such as stem cells and cloning are implied to good effect to where we have to question how far we might go if we had the power to create any kind of a life form on our own.
Adrien Brody has taken a lot of crap over the years for the choice of roles he has taken on ever since his unforgettable Oscar win for “The Pianist.” In retrospect, we have not really been entirely fair to him as his role in Roman Polanski’s film was really a once in a lifetime kind of part. As Clive Nicoli, he shows a man trying to maintain a distance (scientifically and emotionally) from what he and Elsa have brought into this world. But we soon see him going from responsible to (shockingly) reckless in his actions. I am not going to spoil the moment where you can tell just how overboard he has gone, but you will know it when you see it.
With the lovely Sarah Polley, you can always expect her to give a well-crafted performance in any film she appears in. Be it “The Sweet Hereafter,” “Go,” or Zack Snyder’s highly effective remake of “Dawn Of The Dead,” she never half asses anything and gives it her all even in movies that seem so far beneath her. Her performance as Elsa Kast goes from one level to another as her character essentially becomes a first time mother who worries about Dren and later becomes angry when she loses all control over the actions this hybrid commits. In many ways, she threatens to be the most frightening character in the movie, and Polley is riveting throughout just as I always expect her to be.
I also want to give a lot of credit to both actresses who play Dren in the different stages of her literally fast paced life. Abigail Chu plays her as a young child, and she gives the character an innocence that threatens to disappear at a moment’s notice. But Dren really hits her stride when she is portrayed as a teenager by Delphine Chanéac. I would have expected the character to have turned into a one-dimensional monster capable of nothing but malice, but the movie makes Dren a lot more than that as Delphine shows her to be worried, easily bored, scared, sad, and ultimately a very unpredictable person who will not allow herself to be boxed in forever.
Keep in mind, both actresses portray these roles with virtually no dialogue, so their jobs here are far more challenging than anyone else’s in the film. They have to make the audience understand what they are going through in a physical sense in the way they move. Plus, looking right into their eyes betrays the hidden dangers that these characters may not fully understand or even be able to control. In addition to creating a scary creature, they also succeed in making us sympathize with the character’s distress and hurt feelings.
Is this movie scientifically accurate? I don’t know. Frankly, I’m not sure if I care if it is or not because I was really caught up in the story and characters. If there were any scientific errors or impossibilities on display here, I certainly didn’t notice. As long as I’m thinking about them as the movie screens right before my eyes, you won’t find me complaining (at least, not right away).
Clearly, this movie owes a lot to others of its genre such as “Alien” or even “Species” which many have called this a flat out rip off of. Since I haven’t seen “Species” all the way through, I’m not going to waste my time comparing them to one another. Truth be told, original ideas are in typically low supply throughout all of Hollywood. The least you can expect from a filmmaker is to take familiar elements from movies we grew up with and make them seem new and fresh again. For my money Vincenzo does succeed in this for the most part with “Splice.”
But if there’s one thing that really ticks me off about “Splice,” it is the movie’s last act that has an utter cop out of an ending. With its climax, Vincenzo almost succeeds in undoing all the stuff that came before it as it degenerates into your typical monster movie where the humans have to destroy it. It almost makes me want to give this flick a negative review because it leaves you really frustrated at the loss possibilities that the movie could have gone in. And enough already with the twist endings, please?! We got one M. Nigh Shyamalan movie coming out later this summer, so don’t overload us with this now!
Up until that point, “Splice” is a very compelling thriller filled with moments that do not leave the mind all that quickly as you exit the theater. There are a lot of great human moments to be discovered here such as when Elsa and Clive find a way to get Dren to eat this guacamole-looking food to where we watch as Clive teaches Dren how to dance. The dancing sequence could have looked completely ridiculous, but Adrien and Delphine really make it work and they suck you into the moment where you feel their elation over what they are experiencing.
While the ending was a disappointment and left me frustrated, I still found a lot to admire about “Splice.” It may succeed more as a rental than in theaters, but it goes far beyond the kind of crass entertainment we expect these kinds of films to be. Vincenzo, Adrien, and Sarah go far beyond what anyone could have anticipated, and the result shows off how much they put into the finished product.
Oh yeah, and there’s blood and gore in the movie. One grand moment at a corporate presentation is one I think Dario Argento and Fangoria fans will get a huge kick out of.
*** out of ****