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- Movie: Splice
- Rating: R
- Starring: Adrien Brody, Sarah Polley, Delphine Chaneac, David Hewlett, Simona Maicanescu, Brandon McGibbon and Abigail Chu
- Written By: Vincenzo Natali, Antoinette Terry Bryant and Doug Taylor
- Directed By: Vincenzo Natali
- Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
SPLICE Movie Review
Splice Movie: Mommy Does NOT Want a Hug!
By Rob Vaux
June 03, 2010
It starts with a monster. But then, it always does, doesn’t it? Created in a lab, intended for great things, but undone by the hubris and short-sightedness of its creators, it ultimately destroys those who presume to nurture and protect it while leaving behind some short-hand lessons about poking Mother Nature in places that really piss her off.
The formula is a long way from new, but if you perform it properly, nothing in sci-fi quite matches it. Mary Shelley tapped into a primal core of the human experience when she created it, unleashing a definitive statement on everything from our relationship to God to our need to procreate to the simple, awful tragedy of “it seemed like a good idea at the time.” Splice director Vincenzo Natali understands what Shelley was getting at, and while he doesn’t stray too far from her path, he has enough tricks up his sleeve to help us look at it with very fresh eyes.
Most importantly, his ubiquitous mad scientist is a actually a couple, wiz-kid geneticists played by Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley. Natali gives them the right combination of noble intentions and excessive self-regard, from their too-quirky dress code to their AMC Gremlin which screams “we color outside the lines.” When their beloved genetics project--intended to find the cure to all manner of ailments--comes under the axe of fiscal necessity, they embark upon an ill-conceived attempt to blend human and animal DNA. The result is Dren (Delphine Chaneac), a creepy-cute Thing Which Should Not Be who promises to get their project back on track provided they can keep her from killing anyone.
Of course, it’s more complicated than that. Polley’s Elsa finds her dormant maternal instincts awakening with the creature, and while Brody’s Clive is far more wary, he too warms to their test-tube creation… despite the fact that she sports a nasty stinger and a rapidly developing intellect blissfully free of moral understanding.
You can spot the end game from a mile off and Natali doesn’t feel disposed to alter course one iota. But with the plot settling firmly into familiar territory, he takes great delight in shifting its core in a very different direction. Most Frankenstein stories entail men appropriating a woman’s power of creation. Here, it becomes a push and pull of relationship dynamics, expertly blended with the horrors of birth. Elsa fears traditional motherhood--stemming from old psychological scars--and sees Dren as a way to gain a child without the chaotic cost. Clive can’t detach himself from Dren’s status as an experiment, even as his feelings move from sympathy to fatherly love to… well, that would be telling. Both of them imprint their own needs on Dren without accounting for hers; as you can guess, it goes to some very bad places. Natali gives the actors room to fully explore their characters, while slowly turning them against each other in an increasingly tense game of one-upmanship. In the hands of less talented performers, it might have become camp, but the two leads provide enough plausibility to fully enmesh us in the scenario.
And that’s not the impressive part, though any summer film with such ambitions and such intelligence deserves kudos on general principles. The impressive part is how Splice interweaves that with an intense, frightening and deliberately arch roller coaster in the best horror movie tradition. The enclosed sets provide ample tension, which Natali slowly cranks up as the would-be child grows beyond her creators’ ability to control. The FX crew deserves special notice for Dren, as believable as any monster in moviedom without losing either her horrific wrongness or her surprisingly touching soul. Splice constantly knocks our sympathies from the scientists to their creation and back again, keeping an odd twinkle in its eye even as it reaches for shocking bits of inspiration to keep us from getting our bearings.
At times, Natali wears his influences too brazenly on his sleeve, and the ending also suffers from undue convention, as inspired horror gives way to standard run-around-in-the-woods silliness. But up until then, Splice delivers a fascinating twist on a time-honored story. Its sensibilities echo those of David Cronenberg, another Canadian who knew how to mix sly humor with queasy body horror. You’d think such a combination would get old by now, but Splice stands as a solid argument to the contrary.