Starring: Adrien Brody, Sarah Polley, Delphine Chaneac
Written by: Vincenzo Natali, Antoinette Terry Bryant, and Doug Taylor
Directed by: Vincenzo Natali
There are lines that should not be crossed. Moral lines. Ethical lines. Things that should not be tampered with, and societal taboos that should never be explored. This has been the basis for Sci-fi Horror since its inception at the hands of Mary Shelley. A little story named Frankenstein. Then, a new scientific discovery (electricity), in the hands of a mad scientist, created a now famous monster. Nearly two centuries later, SPLICE writer/director Vincenzo Natali has taken Shelley’s formula (substituted genetic manipulation), and has given birth to a creature most rare: the thinking person’s Horror film.
Clive and Elsa (Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley) are our modern day Dr. Frankensteins; smart and driven biochemists. They live together, work together, sleep together (under hugeAnime posters!), and they share their successes and their failures. Sure, they have their differences…Elsa listens to Industrial music, Clive prefers Jazz. He wears funny T-shirts under his lab coat, she goes for plain zippered hoodies. Clive wants to start a family, and Elsa…well, Elsa would rather let an artificial womb do the work.
And work it does.
The duo has succeeded in splicing the genes of countless animals and plants, creating hybrid creatures that resemble giant slugs. These slugs secrete enzymes that could lead to new medicines, new patents, and a lot of money. The company that funds Clive and Elsa’s research is happy as can be, but the scientists aren’t satisfied. No. They want to take their patented genetic soup and add one more ingredient…human DNA. (Gasp!)
When the short-sighted, public-opinion obsessed corporation says no (The fools!), Clive and Elsa go rogue and proceed with the experiment anyway. After a montage of failed attempts and technobabble, the duo have their Eureka Moment. The result is an odd, chicken-like creature, designated H-50. Clive immediately has second thoughts and wants to destroy it, but Elsa has other ideas.
She names it “Dren” (Nerd spelled backwards).
As Dren grows (at an excellerated rate, of course), she becomes more humanoid, forging a bond with her creators and the audience. She starts out cute and innocent, completing puzzles and IQ tests, vying for love and approval. But, as Dren matures into a young “woman,” she develops a strong will and a mind of her own. She tries make-up, sneaking out of the house, dancing, even sex, and she does not respond well to being grounded.
New parents Clive and Elsa find themselves unprepared to deal with a rebellious teenager, and, as the situation spirals out of control, their attempts at tough love have disastrous consequences.
Like its creature, SPLICE is something truly special.
Let’s start with the casting. Most Horror filmmakers go to the CW lot and grab the youngest, most perfect-looking up-and-comers to populate their movies. Not here. No, here we have Oscar-winning actor Adrien Brody (The Pianist) and Oscar-nominated writer Sarah Polley (The Sweet Hereafter). And these stars aren’t just doing a genre film to collect a paycheck. Not at all. They turn in stunning performances here, the weight of every decision clearly visible in their eyes and facial expressions.
And then there’s Dren. It would have been easy for the producers to have opted for a fully computer-generated creature, but, if they had, so much would have been lost. Without uttering a single word of dialogue, Delphine Chaneac makes us pity Dren and fear her at the same time. When Dren looks at her “mother,” then at her own reflection, we see the realization that she is “different.” When she scoops up a cat and pets it in the corner, we feel her loneliness. And when she flashes a smile, it can be cute one minute, chilling the next, and at times…very seductive.
Director Vincenzo Natali (CUBE) has delivered another brilliant study of the human condition. Right and wrong. Love and lust. Sane and insane. All are explored equally and without a heavy hand, leaving the viewer to make their own judgments. And, unlike recent by-the-numbers Hollywood offerings, you will be thinking about this movie long after you leave the theater.
As Sci-fi Horror films go, SPLICE is a cut above the rest, but the moral/ethical questions it poses recall the film of another Canadian: David Cronenberg’s brilliant remake of The Fly. That was more than twenty years ago. Yes, my friends, truly great Sci-fi Horror is a rare and wonderous thing indeed.
4.5 out of 5 stars.