Splice (2009) / Sci Fi-Horror
MPAA Rated: R for strong sexuality, nudity, violence, and language
Running time: 104 min.
Cast: Adrien Brody, Sarah Polley, Delphine Chaneac, Brandon McGibbon, Simona Maicanescu, David Hewlett, Abigail Chu
Director: Vincenzo Natali
Screenplay: Vincenzo Natali, Antoinette Terry Bryant, Doug Taylor
When the names of the two main characters, Clive (Brody, Cadillac Records) and Elsa (Polley, My Life Without Me), are also the names of the two main characters in Bride of Frankenstein, you sort of know where this is going to go in this semi-homage. It's a bit heavier on the science side in this telling, with Clive and Elsa being geneticists (and a romantic couple in their off time) who are working on creating new creatures using the DNA of various existing animals in the hope that they might be able to produce genetic codes that will result in breakthroughs in medicine for the corporation they are funded by. They want to introduce human DNA into the mix but funding is running out and the experiments are too controversial to touch, so they decide to do it on their own in secret. They succeed in their creation dubbed Dren ("Nerd" backwards), but with the looks and intelligence (mostly) of a human being, their experiment proves to be too wildly unpredictable to keep contained on site.
Quality actors do the best they can with the material, though it seems a stretch that two hipsters so fashionable and charismatic might also be smart and exceedingly studious enough to be among the world's best geneticists. Not much time is spent elaborating what's on the minds of these two, which might have been helpful in explaining some of the decisions they make later in the film, particularly when life and limb are on the line. Throughout, they are conflicted between their role as scientists as well as their role as parents to caring for this creature they're created. Director Vincenzo Natali (Paris I Love You, Cube) deals with the conflict in the simplest of terms, emphasizing more the macabre atmosphere and horrifically monstrous metamorphoses of Dren than the attitude changes and moral wrangling that occur within the fully human characters.
Part somber drama, part thriller, part horror flick, part science fiction, and part campy creature feature, the tone of the film is difficult to define, as the emphasis in the thematic material unravels in a herky-jerky fashion throughout. Although the core story is relevant in terms of the pros and cons of genetic experimentation, the script never delves deeper than it has to, and only dabbles with the moral complexities of the debate. The main characters, though ostensibly meant to be amazingly intelligent and skilled, become more common the more we're exposed to them, eventually eschewing most of their intellect for baser human impulses than most who aren't as logically inclined would indulge in.
Although filmed with a higher budget and more talented cast and crew, Splice would probably fit more as a cheapie TV movie on Syfy, where rip-offs of Species seem to come out every other month, than as a major theatrical release, as the events as they play out are of limited appeal to anyone not a fan of bad science/horror mutations. The budget for special effects does produce some interesting effects, and yet they aren't terribly convincing, always appearing as special effects, particularly in the earlier ambiguously morphed creatures, dubbed Fred and Ginger, who look like CGI slugs. Later, Dren (Chaneac, Brice de Nice) is depicted with a mostly human head (though bald with eyes widely spaced) and torso, but her kangaroo legs, birdlike feet and prehensile tail are far from convincing in appearance.
What sinks the film, other than its occasionally questionably bad taste (interspecies sex and rape are among the more unsavory (and occasionally disgusting) of events), is that it plays out with few true surprises to emerge as anything more than hybrid sci-fi/horror. It's easy to see where the film is going from the set-up, and though there are occasional attempts at twists, they are telegraphed long before in ways that will be deemed obvious by savvy filmgoers. It does have a spark of originality in its premise, but throughout its multi-genre explorations, it takes some paths that have not only been done before, they're centuries old in execution. If there's a lesson to be learned from this frustrating film it's that hybrids, while looking unique, are still a product of their old amalgamated parts, and are probably best left unrealized in the hands of those who can't support their development fully.
©2010 Vince Leo