Five. That’s how many walk-outs there were at the screening of this movie I saw; definitely a sure sign of a future cult classic. From director Vincenzo Natali (1997’s Cube) comes Splice, a slightly flawed yet ambitious sci-fi horror chiller that will make your skin crawl in all the right places. And some that you didn’t even know could.
Essentially a B-movie with A-list talent behind it, Splice stars Oscar-winner Adrian Brody and Oscar-nominee Sarah Polley as Clive and Elsa, two young, rebellious genetic researchers who simply can’t take “no” for an answer when the corporation they work for threatens to shut down their research, which involves splicing together the DNA of different animals in the hope of curing any number of diseases. So, why are they being shut down? Clive and Elsa want to splice animal DNA with a human’s. So, flouting any and all legal and ethical restrictions, they secretly go through with their experiment.
What they create is Dren, a female human/animal hybrid creature with a bald head, webbed feet and a poison stinger-tipped tail. After Dren’s birth in a disgustingly thrilling lab tank C-section, she begins growing and evolving at a highly accelerated rate. And so, Clive and Elsa are left to deal with their increasingly volatile and dangerous creation. So far, so Frankenstein, but that’s all the plot you’ll get here. The ways that the story twists and slithers in shocking and unpredictable directions are much too juicy and grotesque to give away.
One of the main reasons this movie succeeds is its original treatment of an established genre: the Creature Feature. First and foremost, it takes its subject matter seriously. After years of corny dialogue, bad special effects, and zero character development, this brand of film finally adds one to the canon that treats its audience as intelligent people without skimping on the gross out factor. Much of the credit for this is due to smartly judged direction, and the more than capable actors. Brody and Polley give excellent performances that go way beyond what you’d normally expect from a sci-fi horror flick. Seeing these actors bring to life two average people trying to claw their way out of a pit of moral and ethical quicksand they’ve created for themselves keeps the film, which could have flown off the rails into a tasteless shock-fest, grounded in reality when so many films like it have failed in this regard. The two leads are great, but a special mention should be made of Delphine Chanéac, the actress who plays Dren as an adult. In a nearly silent performance, save for a few added-in animal noises, Chanéac imbues her character with just the right mix of pathos, danger, and repulsion to make her feel real, not cheesy. Additionally, Natali’s direction is very sharp. He does a fine job juggling moods and ideas with scenes of stomach turning nastiness. These factors, coupled with great teched-out production design by Todd Cherniawsky and a creeping, evocative score by Cyrille Aufort, keep the film fresh within a genre that many would argue has gone stale.
As mentioned, this movie does have its flaws. The most apparent is the slow second act. After a rapid beginning 40 minutes, the pace slackens considerably after Dren reaches adulthood. Scenes of Clive and Elsa carting Dren from place to place and thwarting the corporate suits from discovering their secret feel like semantics and grow a bit tiresome. Another issue that could rub some horror fans the wrong way is the fact that the movie feels a bit light on actual creature violence. When it happens it’s great, but the movie is definitely a sci-fi film with horror elements, rather than the other way around. It doesn’t have a lot of “scares” in the traditional sense. The mood is more creepy and weird rather than frightening. Those going in expecting a Descent-like actioner will be disappointed. Lastly – and this might qualify as nit-picking – there is a whole “cool nerd” aesthetic associated with Clive and Elsa that feels a bit forced. They drive a Gremlin, listen to hard rock, and wear cutting edge fashionable clothing. This all feels like the filmmaker’s attempt to shoe-horn in some elements that the fanboy and geek-chic set can relate to. These flaws aren’t huge, but they do keep the movie from achieving instant classic status.
All things considered, Splice is a solid and refreshing take on a time-honored story. Featuring some of the most boundary pushing scenes on film in a while, which prompted the aforementioned walk-outs and one audience member to let out an audible “OH, F*** ME!” this movie is not for the squeamish. But my guess is you’ve already decided if this is your kind of film. And if it is, you’ll be rewarded with a creature feature that offers just as many things that make you think as ones that make you puke.
- Adam Fiske
June 4, 2010