The rumor was that the reason why the new film “Splice” had such a hard time securing distribution is no one could see a way in which to market it. What preconceived niche does the picture fit in? Is it horror? It Science Fiction? Is it mediation on what it means to be human, or is it a warning about the ethical tightrope of using human DNA in bioengineering? True to its title, “Splice” seems to be bit of all of the above. Some of it gets short changed, but enough of it doesn’t to make this one of the most interesting recent entries into the horror genre… or sci-fi… or…
The film takes the neat envelope that most marketers want to stick it in, and pushes it in all directions offering a little of everything. At first it seems like the picture is going to be a self-conscious, hipster attempt at science fiction, but not quite making it. We are introduced to Elsa and Clive (Sarah Polley and Adrien Brody respectively) two quirky bio-engineers who have questionable sartorial taste, favoring plaid pants and knee high boots. Their apartment is decorated with enormous Japanese Manga posters, and you can just tell they are rebels at heart. When they find out that “The Man,” a.k.a. their employer, a shady bio-tech firm, hopes use their gene-splicing break through for profit instead of going the whole-hog and incorporating human DNA into the mix, Clive and Elsa do exactly what their lopsided haircuts tell us they were born to do; they break the rules.
Quickly the film moves into Sci-Fi territory when Elsa fertilizes an egg using her own DNA and a dry martini of other species. As the embryo grows Clive shows hisinvertebrate side refusing to stop his girlfriend from letting the experiment come to term. Despite the initial annoying nature of their hipper-than-though demeanors, the relationship between the two is fully fleshed out as a real couple struggling with the question all young couples struggle with – procreate or no?
When the experiment comes full term, and they have to decide whether to terminate, the scene resembles a couple having to decide whether to terminate a pregnancy after finding out their baby has DownSyndrome. This is the film’s strength. Each bizarre turn is allegorical to a brutal real life decision that people are faced with, not every day, but in life nonetheless. As Elsa is drawn more and more to the “specimen” the film morphs into a kind of adoption thriller like “The Orphan” – he knows something is wrong, but she just loves her so much she is blind.
Dren (Delphine Chaneac), as Elsa finally names her, quickly matures toward puberty, and like in real life parenthood, that’s where things get really interesting, and the horror starts to emerge. While not giving away any of the surprises, I will say this is where the film starts to get more and more strange, constantly changing direction, so much so that it may lose a couple viewers at each turn.
In the end the film is more drama with a Sci-Fi twist, and a bit of horror to round out the edges. It is a fairly hard sell for some people, but those willing to take a chance with the picture will be due rewarded. Director Vincenzo Natali chooses to give the situation a slow build, pacing the film in a way that keeps the audience on edge, waiting for the inevitable wrong turn Elsa and Clive are bound to take.
The design for Dren, when born a creepy mutilated chicken form made popular by David Lynch’s “Eraserhead” that grows into the lithesensuality of Chaneac, heightens the tension being alternately familiar and other worldly depending on if we see her in a wide shot or close-up. To boot, the air of predatory naivete that Chaneac brings to Dren makes her one of the most unsettling villains of late.
The creature also possesses a sexuality that makes the second half of the picture quite disturbing in a way that brings the film into a different genre, one that today’s “Saw” and remakes like “A Nightmare on Elm Street” have no claim to. It is a place of which “Videodrome” is king, and few films are allowed at court. “Splice” is one, and while it may not be of the royal family it is definitely nobility.
El Luchador Rating: 4 out of 5
Review By: Paul S. Myers (a.k.a. El Luchador)