June 4, 2009 (USA)
Vincenzo Natali, Antoinette Terry Bryant, and Doug Taylor
Adrien Brody as Clive Nicoli
Sarah Polley as Elsa Kast
Delphine Chaneac as Dren
Abigail Chu as Child Dren
By James “Crypticpsych” Lasome
Clive and Elsa (Brody and Polley ;and yes, that is a VERY irrelevant reference to Colin Clive and Elsa Lanchester of The Bride of Frankenstein) are two lovebird scientists working in the pharmaceutical industry at Nucleic Exchange Research and Development or N.E.R.D (laugh, it’s funny, HA!). They, along with their team, have discovered a way to create designer creatures by splicing together the DNA of various creatures thus creating what can only be described as giant, fleshy amoebas (named Fred and Ginger ; previous failed experiments include Sid and Nancy ; Bonnie and Clyde ; ha ha ha). From these creatures, they believe they can isolate a genetic protein that could lead to the cure for numerous diseases. While their boss wants them to focus on isolating the protein, however, Clive and Elsa decide that they want to try and splice in human DNA to see if they can obtain a protein even more stable. Disobeying their boss’s wishes, they sneak in in the dead of night and, after much trial and error, successfully prove they can splice the human gene.
That’s not enough for Elsa though, as she leads Clive into agreeing to attempt to actually produce a living organism from their spliced protein, promising that they won’t take it fully to term. It’s really easy to say that, however, before the spliced creature looks up at you with its big goo-goo eyes. Before long, the little experiment (that they name Dren ; again, spell it backwards for yet more wordplay) literally grows into a big problem that threatens to destroy their very lives.
First it is only right to recognize the good in Splice ;what little there is is actually quite solid and partially salvages many scenes. Howard Berger, Greg Nicotero, and C.O.R.E. Digital Pictures ; take a long bow. Splice has, without a doubt, the best special effects and most effectively integrated computer effects I’ve seen in a movie in a long time. I may joke that the designer creatures are just blobs ; but they actually look like they’re really there in the room and are only unrealistic because the viewer knows they don’t exist in reality, not because they look out of place. This also brings us to the combined practical effects and CGI that are Dren and Child Dren (Chaneac and Chu). The creatures look very lifelike and emote far more realistically than Clive and Elsa. Much of this is due to the two actresses playing them. Chu is very good, endearing, naïve, and emotional as Child Dren, but Chaneac’s Dren is, by far, the best performance in Splice and blows the leads out of the water. In a wordless performance based in body and facial movement and sounds (which makes sense given she can’t speak English fluently), Chaneac becomes the star of every scene she’s in. You feel her pain, joy, love, fear, curiosity, boredom, hostility, and more. In fact, the movie may be terrible, but Chaneac almost makes the entire thing worthwhile. In a just world, she would receive an Oscar nomination for this, and I’m not speaking hyperbolically. Now ; beyond Dren and the effects though ;
As you might know from the forums or the “About Us“page, I am, when not watching horror, a real-life chemist. Needless to say, portrayal of scientists in film is something I tend to focus on. I love some films because either the performance of a scientist is over-the-top on purpose (Re-Animatorfor instance) or because it’s clear the movie is set in future time ; thus typical science theory may not apply (like Event Horizon). Having said all that, I would like to say that these may be two of the least realistic portrayals of scientists in cinematic history (given this appears to take place in the “real”world). They can sneak around their building and hide this creature inside for half the movie ; apparently for over a MONTH? I pass 3-5 security cameras every day on the way to my lab and swipe a key card twice ; sorry, no. They give interviews with Wired Magazine about big discoveries without clearing them with their bosses? I WOULD BE FIRED. They aren’t even fired when a press conference announcing their initial discovery goes horribly, violently awry at one point! Dren undergoes changes without any explanation (growing wings, forming amphibious lungs, growing at an accelerated rate, craving sucrose) and the “scientists”never question ANY of these changes in their “experiment”(their word, multiple times). That’s just failing the basic scientific method, right there. That’s not even mentioning just how “hip”they seem with their SUV, jazz and rock in the lab, and the numerous pithy t-shirts Clive wears.
Critic’s Rant The “horror intelligentsia” praise this movie to the heavens. They call it “smart”. They say it’s “original” (so original, it trots out EVERY cliche in the book). They praise Polley and Brody as “real”(never failing to mention their Academy Award-related pasts). I even read one review that claimed the movie DIDN’T slip into the usual tired “we shouldn’t play God”cliches. On that count, I believe you could make a drinking game out of the number of times characters explicitly discuss moral implications and crossing lines in this film, and you’d be stone drunk an hour in. They discuss the movie as an allegory for “parenthood”. I can see where they’re coming from there ; but neither of these lead characters is LIKEABLE! Much less the fact that, avoiding spoilers, I would not want to meet the parents that do to their “children”the things Elsa and Clive do to theirs in this movie.
As far as performances go, Clive and Elsa are the most broadly drawn characters possible. Polley’s Elsa is not a bad performance, per se ; it’s an impossible to follow, emotionally unstable one. First, she tells Clive she doesn’t want a child, then she pushes him to create Dren, then she acts motherly toward it, then she mood swings back and forth between nurturing mother and reliving her own POINTLESS Mommy issues, sometimes in the same scene ; not to mention one of this film’s many twists that literally makes no sense given Elsa’s supposed feelings at just before that point in the movie’s timeline. Meanwhile, Brody’s Clive is as wooden asa Sequoia. When he’s supposed to be angry, he just seems freaked out. He fails to emote when he isn’t raising his voice and when he DOES raise it, the emotion just feels wrong. He’s also mildly sex-obsessed to a point I’m not going to go into here. He’s not violent, but don’t worry! Natali appears to have made certain things in the movie that are male, violent, AND sex-obsessed ; because generalizations about both genders are fun!
Thematically, Splice is a mess that has no idea what it wants to be. It has legitimately funny, cute moments, but it’s trying too hard to be dramatic to be a dark comedy. By the same token, it has mildly creepy and scary moments, but it’s too ludicrous and funny at times to be a drama or remotely a full horror movie. The plot has a nasty habit of pulling conveniences out of thin air too (Dren’s getting too big to keep at the lab ;OH HOW CONVENIENT! Elsa’s mom has a farm!). Finally, the controversial ending of this movie (that I won’t spoil) confounds me. I’ve come up with two explanations for what happens in this scene and NEITHER makes a lick of logical sense in terms of what we see in the film ;and that’s not to even mention the COMPLETELY unrealistic decision by a character that closes the movie.
Overall, Splice infuriates me as a scientist, a horror fan, and a filmgoer and critic. If you MUST see it, rent it solely to see great effects and Delphine Chaneac in one of the best performances of the year. Otherwise, this experiment of unrealistic characters, clumsy writing, and rampant cliches deserves to be junked for the failure it is.