When Splice ended, my viewing partner and I sat through all the credits. We walked out of the theater, through the lobby and across the parking lot in silence. It’s the sort of film that generates such a response. You realize you’ve seen something out of the ordinary, but you want to think about it—maybe work out in your own mind why the film is disturbing—before talking about it. I still want to think about it, but I’ve put off writing about it as long as I can, so here it goes.
Vincenzo Natali’s Splice is marketed as sci-fi horror, and I won’t say that’s wrong, because it certainly qualifies as that—much in the manner of early David Cronenberg. But there’s more to it than that. There’s something going on beneath the surface of the film that makes it disturbing in a different way. I’m inclined to think that part of this is the result of Splice eschewing Cronenberg’s realm of “body horror” and moving it outside of ourselves. The film’s closest Cronenberg relative is probably The Brood (1979)—for reasons that are as obvious as they are potentially misleading. Both films do work on the basis of a kind of artificially produced spawn. And in both cases, the offspring have more to do with the “mother” and, very specifically, the mother’s past than they have to do with the “father.” But Natali’s film and Cronenberg’s have differing dynamics and head in different directions.
In Splice we have two brilliant geneticists, Clive Nicoli (Adrien Brody) and Elsa Kast (Sarah Polley), who are personally involved. (Yes, their names do appear to be a nod to Colin Clive and Elsa Lanchester in James Whale’s Bride of Frankenstein (1935).) They have managed to create a fairly grotesque-looking life form and a mate for it (the pair of creatures are dubbed Fred and Ginger). Naturally, the scientists want to take the experiment to the next level—even to the illegal level of involving human DNA—but the pharmaceutical company that employs them wants to shut down that aspect of their work until they’ve produced a marketable, stockholder-convincing product to justify the research expense.
Faced with this, Elsa convinces Clive to pursue that next step while they can—in secret. She just wants to see if it can be done—that is, until she does, at which point she wants to take it a step further. Not surprisingly, this ends up taking them all the way to the creation of a new life form—one that at first looks like little more than a more sophisticated (and more phallic) version of Fred and Ginger, but one which transforms into something ever more human. Or rather, the creation transforms into something ever more human and something else.
To divulge much more of the plot’s mechanics would do a disservice to the film. I will say that in many ways, this is a film about parenting—and about how parenting is learned. It’s also about identity and sexual identity. Unthinkable things happen between the creators and their creation—ultimately named Dren (which is “nerd” backwards—its reversal in itself a clue) and uncannily played by French actress Delphine Chanéac. Yet, in context, they not only make perfect sense, they’re all but inevitable. Nearly everything that Elsa does—and her reactions to everything that happens—is imprinted on her from a childhood of implicit abuse. (The film doesn’t spoon-feed her past to the viewer. It consists of three lines of dialogue and a look at her childhood bedroom preserved “just the way” she left it.)
Unfortunately, I also have to add that the film is not perfect in a number of areas. It starts off strong, only to hit a bad, extremely awkward patch during the search for how to create Dren. The early Dren scenes owe a little too much to Alien (1979). The film more than recovers itself soon after, however, and mostly works from there on out. I’m not quite sure how I feel about certain aspects that wander over into the realm of Victor Salva’s Jeepers Creepers (2001), and if anyone involved actually thinks the film’s final revelation is a surprise (it’s presented as if it’s supposed to be), they are unobservant. On the whole, however, Splice is so thought-provoking and disturbing that it qualifies as a powerful work and is probably secure as the best horror film of the year. Rated R for disturbing elements, including strong sexuality, nudity, sci-fi violence and language.