Splice

Movie Information

The Story: A pair of brilliant geneticists create an artificial life form using human DNA -- with potentially disastrous results. The Lowdown: Strong sci-fi horror that's somewhat in the vein of early David Cronenberg, but with an identity of its own. A few signficant flaws don't keep it from being a must-see for genre fans -- and anyone who likes to explore subtext.
Score:

Genre: Sci-Fi Horror
Director: Vincenzo Natali (The Cube)
Starring: Adrien Brody, Sarah Polley, Delphine Chanéac, Brandon McGibbon, Simona Maicanescu
Rated: R

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.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

13 thoughts on “Splice

  1. Mike

    This movie is worth going to just to catch the indignant reactions of the unprepared at your theater. So refreshing to see a horror flick that doesn’t rely on cheap shock scares to goose the audience.

    But yeah, it isn’t perfect and I probably laughed way too much when I wasn’t supposed to in the second act (probably out of discomfort more than anything else) but I had a great time with this one. Absolutely bonkers in the best way possible.

  2. GethHerself

    Brody and Chanéac’s scenes shine, and the special effects department did an excellent job of creating a genetic mish-mash that was by turns attractively human and disturbingly “Other” (note the horse legs and tail). Fred and Ginger, however, looked like something you might throw on the grill this 4th of July. How much peering-into-dangerous-water scenes can 1 movie bear the weight of? I was left wondering, “Are humans REALLY that horny?” The visuals of Dren will stay with you after the credits role and into the next week.

  3. Ken Hanke

    This movie is worth going to just to catch the indignant reactions of the unprepared at your theater.

    Didn’t have much of that in our theater, but then noon probably wasn’t the best time to see it with very many people in attendance. I can certainly imagine indignant reactions — and people walking out in a huff.

  4. Sean Williams

    I realize that this question is premature, but does the fact that you’re still thinking about this film so intently mean that you might upgrade it to the full five stars and include it in your best of the year list come December? I ask because this review has the tone of other reviews, like that for The Fountain, that you’ve upgraded.

  5. Ken Hanke

    I realize that this question is premature, but does the fact that you’re still thinking about this film so intently mean that you might upgrade it to the full five stars and include it in your best of the year list come December?

    Well, it’s premature to the extent that there are quite a lot of movies yet to see this year. My basic feeling, however, is that it’s unlikely, because the things that I don’t like in the film or don’t think work are pretty strong. I have, however, become fascinated that almost everyone finds some different wrong with it.

  6. I enjoyed this film, but after listening to some teenagers in the back, it was totally over their heads. That could explain the low box office.

    For those haven’t seen two of the director’s films, CUBE and NOTHING, I recommend them.

  7. Dread P. Roberts

    I can’t make up my mind if I liked this movie or not. All of the technicalities of the film seem well done, and the acting is great. It’s the script that seems to flounder a bit for me. But then again, maybe it doesn’t.

    Initially, I felt like the movie was full of these moments that were supposed to be surprising; but in almost every instance, that scene of events is preceeded by a hint, or a clue, as to what will happen. Therefore, none of it is actually really all that surprising. But then I tend to think that paying attention, and figuring it all out a little before it happens, as also part of the fun. So I don’t know.

    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)

    I actually felt like that last 5-10 minutes of ‘horror’ felt like the most out-of-place part of the whole movie. And I feel odd saying that, because I spent most of the movie waiting for that horror element to come to fruition. We all know it’s coming, but the film does such a good job of developing and articulating this feeling of impending doom, that the sudden payoff in the last reel felt somewhat tacked-on to me. It’s as if they ran out of space, but knew it had to be in there, so it just got thrown in haphazardly.

    I enjoyed this film, but after listening to some teenagers in the back, it was totally over their heads.

    Do you mind eleborating on that a little?

    It’s funny, because there was a pack of rabid babling teenagers, emerging from a finished screening of The A-Team at the same time that Splice ended. My wife and I got momentarily trapped behind the beasts as we were attempting to exit the theater. I was forced (nay, tortured) into quasi listening to their brain damage inducing discussion of the film. All I could think of in those moments of anguish, was that nomatter what film I had just finished seeing, thank god it wasn’t THAT one.

  8. Mike

    “For those haven’t seen two of the director’s films, CUBE and NOTHING, I recommend them.”

    Cube is great fun and an amazing technical achievement; Natali used only one 14 x 14 set to approximate the labyrinth the protagonists are imprisoned in. (I love iMDB trivia)

    Nothing looks interesting and I have heard good things about his film Cypher, as well.

    Hollywood rumor mill has it he is also tabbed to direct a version of William Gibson’s classic cyberpunk novel Neuromancer. Tough material to adapt but, given Natali’s body of work, I have faith.

  9. Dread P. Roberts

    “What’s going on?”
    “I don’t understand!”

    If they were really that confused, then I’d like to imagine that they meant to go see Marmaduke, and accidently meandered into the wrong theater. (Hey, one can hope, can’t he?)

  10. Ken Hanke

    I actually felt like that last 5-10 minutes of ‘horror’ felt like the most out-of-place part of the whole movie.

    This is part of why the movie — or more the reaction to it — fascinates me. Everybody has a problem with some part of it, yet the problems are generally quite different. While I have some reservations about that scene, they’re all grounded in the metamophosis of the creature.

    If they were really that confused, then I’d like to imagine that they meant to go see Marmaduke, and accidently meandered into the wrong theater.

    I would not count on this, but it’s heartening that you’d like to think so.

  11. Barry Summers

    Just watched this on DVD – and while I haven’t yet seen “The Human Centipede”, I expect I will be less grossed out by it than by “Splice”. Something genuinely more horrible about what these scientists did than the shlock horror of stitching captive bodies together… Maybe because this film is actually in the realm of what might really be going on in some shadowy pharma company in Singapore, or wherever…

  12. DrSerizawa

    I especially liked enjoyed the subtext of the humans’ misplaced projection of human qualities on their creation. Much like people project human emotions and motivations on animals. “Bambi” may be a cute movie but in reality deer are wild and dangerous animals. Your cute sweet little doggie or kitty will enthusiastically kill other animals just because they can. Dren, only half human, had her own instincts and motivations and was clearly potentially very dangerous. Deny those instincts at your peril.

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