Review – Splice June 17, 2010

This originally appeared in The Peak. The movie is great, I wholly recommend it.


It’s great when good movies are failed by the marketing departments of their studio partners, as it always makes success all the more satisfying. Splice is thus afflicted in spades; its trailers and promotions billing are a lame science-run-amok horror cash-in with a low IQ, and the entire merit requisite that genre. While the former is mostly correct, the latter characteristics are absent, resulting in one of the most interesting and entertaining science fiction films since Aliens.

Splice follows the exploits of Clive Nicoli (Adrien Brody) and Elsa Kast (Sarah Polley), a scientific Brangelina and the current darlings of their field. Their work, involving the recombination of various animal genetics, has resulted in a viable new species that produces a commercially valuable protein of some sort. On the edge of even greater achievements and medical breakthroughs, their research is threatened with being turned into an expensive farming operation, their ambitions to work with human DNA being shut down before they start. In an act of rebellion, Elsa and Clive disobey the law and their company, bringing a life form with part human and part animal DNA to term. Their interactions with what they create, the sentient and semi-lethal Dren (Delphine Chanéac, heavily modified with makeup and CG) and their struggle with creating something they cannot control, form the basis for the film’s second and third acts.

Like the trailers, this summary is a poor reflection of what this film is. On paper, it reads like any other sci-fi/horror film, which is to sell it short entirely. In actuality, it is a deep, layered film exploring paternal and maternal interplay with the couple’s new “offspring.” While it occasionally falls short of delivering compelling dialogue between the characters, its subtexts and intricacies are enough to put you on the edge of your seat. Every moment comprises some instance where a lesser studio thriller would shy away, hiding behind banality to inflate box office take or reach the coveted PG-13 threshold. Splice revels in these moments of shock, but never comes off as exploitative. Each is surrounded by a disturbing rationality, its character failings and instances of sheer horror coming only on the coattail of a well-constructed logic. It is this understanding that director Vincenzo Natali (Cube, Paris Je t’aime) instils on his audience that makes Splice so terrifying. There is no moment of emotional or physical brutality that is senseless, and the audience can nearly sympathize (or at the very least see the reasons behind each, be they animal or cerebral). This makes for a psychologically chilling experience and one that will walk out of the theatre with you.

Polley and Brody picked a winner with this film, one that balances with ease its interest in Dren as the “monster” and the monstrosity of its creators. Both characters attack their roles and any frailties in the script dissolve in their performances. Polley expertly projects her character’s own mommy issues onto Dren: her motherly instincts taking on a frighteningly casual tyranny, the relationship between mother and teenage “daughter” finding a new, awful context. Just as deft is Brody’s struggle with a rapidly-aging Dren. An animal, an experimental subject, and ward of his protection, Splice shows its true fearlessness confronting him with Dren’s most problematic characteristic — the body and desires of an adolescent human female. Delphine Chanéac does exactly what is needed in her role, balancing a total animalistic streak with enough humanity showing through as to raise the question: Where does the animal stop and the human begin?

Its direction (and, particularly, art direction) are top notch, with the film’s drama never seeming tired and its action cohesive and smooth (take notes, Paul Greengrass). So tight is the experience, that to divulge much more than a brief synopsis is to start a domino effect of spoilers that would utterly undo its multiple satisfying twists and turns. Splice is science fiction without pandering, horror without restraint, thrilling without relying on pop-out scares, and infinitely exciting. It’s solid almost without exception and is one of the first truly great films of the summer. You’ll be shocked, disgusted, horrified, and happy with every cent spent on your ticket.

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