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There is a lot to admire about Splice, but there isn’t much that I actually enjoyed. As directed by Vincenzo Natali (the infinitely superior Cube), what had the potential to be a clever sci-fi monster movie ends up hindered by both the pretentiousness of the filmmakers as well as unrestrained ambition. In trying to be too many things to too many people, the film is never able to find it’s own voice. I appreciate the film for the moments rather than the whole.
Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley star as Clive and Elsa (an homage to Bride of Frankenstein), genetic scientists experimenting with DNA splicing. They work for a pharmaceutical company, splicing DNA from various animals together in an attempt to find medical breakthroughs. However, when they are forbidden to include human DNA, they do what any self-respecting scientist would do; they add it anyway. This leads to the creation of Dren, a weird little creature that begins aging at an accelerated rate.
Clive and Elsa are fascinated with the concept of seeing a creature’s developmental process within a sped-up time frame, and begin raising the child as if it is their own. They have been delaying having a child, and Dren serves as an outlet for their parental instincts. Unfortunately, what starts out as a cute little childlike creation starts exhibiting violent tendancies. Clive and Elsa begin to experience a combination of wonder and fear of their creation.
As the story escalates, things get weirder and weirder. Instead of being the monster movie it seemed to be building toward, the film examines Clive and Elsa’s relationship from the sexualized perspective of a now adult Dren. As I said, I can appreciate what the filmmakers were attempting, but this awkward change in tone slams the film to a stop. After awhile, I couldn’t figure out the point of the movie. Is it supposed to be a morality tale about genetic manipulation? Or is it a character study about the challenges of raising a child? And what exactly is the point of taking the story in the sexual direction that it ends up going? Finally, the film settles into the monster-movie mode they had seemed to be building towards, but by this point, it was too late. The lack of focus had completely lost me.
Having said all that, the film itself is technically impressive. It looks like a gritty, low-budget independent film, and yet it features sophisticated effects, stunts, and production design. There is a dark moodiness to everything that is highly effective. The filmmakers definitely understand the mood of their film, even if they didn’t have a complete grasp on their story. As for the effects, they are a combination of CGI, puppetry, and very clever makeup.
The character of Dren is brought to life by actress Delphine Chaneac, and she does a brilliant job. With her inhuman facial features, and jarringly fast method of movement, she is able to portray an unsettling monster with just enough humanity for us to uncomfortably recognize ourselves. The character never really speaks, so she has to utilize nothing but body language to convey an ever-changing emotional spectrum. It’s a fascinating performance, and one that deserved a better screenplay.
There is only one bonus feature on this disc. Entitled “A Director’s Playground: Vincenzo Natali on the Set of Splice,” this feature runs slightly over 30 minutes and showcases the filming of several key sequences from the film. I love features like this, where the camera serves as a “fly on the wall,” simply observing the production rather than becoming a part of it. That’s not to say that there aren’t interviews, but there is a lot of material where the cameraman simply stands back and watches what happens.
I had high hopes for this film. I heard about the incredible reception it got at the festivals, and I was really eager to see a unique horror film, which this isn’t. However, I don’t want my pre-conceived notions to make it seem as if I’m critiquing the film for what it isn’t. I’m critiquing the film for it’s lack of thematic focus andinclusion of awkward story twists. As the film progressed, I began to realize that the filmmakers were, in effect, splicing together a film from the DNA of other, better films. The end result might not be quite as unsettling as Dren, but it’s definitely a creation that I could have done without.