The opening scene plays out visually through the eyes of ‘something’ being born. Stuck in a womb, it cannot come out by itself and it is slipping in and out of consciousness. Through this vision, we experience what it would be like if we were aware of our birth and I give props to director Vincenzo Natali for creating such an interesting point of view. Natali has an extensive background as a storyboard artist, so what else would one expect.
Even if you haven’t seen the movie you know the premise. Two ambitious scientist lovers Clive Nicoli (Adrian Brody) and Elsa Kast (Sarah Polley) create a creature in a scientific experiment. What led them to this was their initial project, which I shall explain in extreme layman terms, was by creating two organisms, named Fred and Ginger (which looks like massively overgrown slugs) from splicing DNA and voila, an animal “species” (per se) from scratch. The project is a success. Their investors are very happy and now for phase two, utilize the slugs and extract a certain protein, so the investor company can reap esteem and wealth. However, Clive and Elsa would rather save the world and use their creation to cure diseases such as Parkinson’s Disease or cancer.
Sorry, huge corporation doesn’t want to deal with saving the world from disease so said scientists risk their careers and forgo any ethical reasoning they have and splice another dose (this time with human DNA) into a gestation mass, to see if they can actually create an embryo. If their project is getting shut down, they want to go out with a bang.
Of course the experiment works and in an Alien worthy moment, said experiment escapes it’s confines, thrashes around an enclosed environment playing hide and seek until it woos Elsa into keeping it, with it’s cute bald head, chirpy sounds and Pug-esque-head-cocked-side-ways-glance.
From this point on you would expect this to turn into a horror film quite quickly. Well it doesn’t. It evolves slowly, unlike the female creature, which they eventually name Dren, whose shows signs of escalated cell growth, so no worries she’ll die soon enough. Right? But then how will this movie play out? I’ll tell ya. It turns into an ABC Family Special on shrooms.
Elsa morphs into a cat lady who treats their pets like humans while Clive is the reactionary husband who thinks she’s out of her mind. They fall right into their roles of good parent/bad parent, with Elsa treating Dren in such a puerile fashion, eventually Dren bonds with Clive, but it’s on a level that is quite cringe-worthy to say the least.
The premise of Splice and the intelligent direction in which this film could have gone is so different than it actually went. It takes a hard left turn and completely goes down the rabbit hole into disturbia to the point where one cannot take it seriously anymore. All sense of science gets thrown out the window. The audience waits patiently for a horror movie to begin, but they only get a taste of it at the very end.
Natali didn’t come up with the story of Dren out of thin air mind you. It was based on a real experiment called the Vacanti mouse. That mouse that has an ear on it’s back.
The creature itself was fascinating to watch. Dren, who was played by French actress Delphine Chanéac, gorgeous enough to allow us to feel sorry for her and place her in the category of victim and probably not too much of an expense in the film’s casting budget as she speaks not a lick in the entire film.
But honestly I would rather Splice took the route of formulaic horror film, for then I wouldn’t have had such an empty feeling when the ending credits started rolling. I understand that in the near future Dren could be a living breathing entity. I appreciate that scientific aspect of creating a new life form and all the ramifications that come with it. But the plot did not go in the direction of a scientific exploration. This film used science and mixed it with the human condition and relationships gone very wrong. Maybe that is what it was trying to show us; that we’re all fallible when it comes to love. Maybe. But for most audiences that notion will be lost in a sea of depravity and it was a waste of great special effects.
Rating: 6/10 stars
Running time: 104 minutes
I have more points I’d like to get off my chest about this film but I place wanted to place it here, at the end, and warn you, do not read any further if you plan on seeing the film. Do not blame me for ruining it for you.
Ok…here we go.
First I’d like to know if the folks at MPAA have their eyes shut when reviewing this film for a rating. How else can you explain allowing a bestiality and bestiality rape scene in this film? And don’t tell me it’s because it was a creature. It was quite human in intelligence and features (besides the wings and gills and chicken feet and tail) and over time played on our human emotions for it. So it was bestiality.
Number two; Elsa was the real psycho in this film. Engineering her own DNA into Dren, in some sick twisted craving to be a mother, only to act like Faye Dunaway à la Mommy Dearest with severe domination and control issues. I can just see her screaming “NO POINTY TAILS!!!!”
Was that throw back to her childhood living conditions amid squalor any key to her psychotic tendencies? I think so. Don’t get me started on Clive, the stepfather by proxy who gets attracted to his adoptive daughter, which ends up in comical coitis. Woody Allen anyone? Sorry, I had to say it. I am surprised Adrian Brody agreed to be placed in such a position.
Plus, it was so transparent of a plot twist for Elsa to end up in her ‘condition’. We all figured it out before it was so blatantly showed to us. Come on!
If this movie were released in the 1970’s, Splice would have become a cult-classic; it has all the making of a twisted B Italian horror flick. But this is the 2000’s. Audiences are intelligent yet picky. Only if you can allow yourself to let go and not be annoyed by being mislead and embrace the quixotic nature of it all, you just might enjoy the film, but chances are slim.
If you have seen the film, leave a comment….I’d like to hear your take on it.
Review originally written for Open Book Society.