Film review by: Witney Seibold
Vincenzo Natali‘s “Splice” is a high-quality B-film which starts with believably human characters, strolls gently into the realm of Creepy Monster Flick, and then, just as gently, takes us to some wonderfully bugnuts psychosexual territory that few films of this stripe have the chutzpah to traverse. I can say with no hesitation that “Splice” is one of the best films of 2010.
The story seems familiar to any genre fan: Scientists create a beastie in a lab using gooey living jelly, animal parts, and hubris. The beastie, of course, turns out differently than the scientists expected, and they either must kill it in a fiery display (the easy way out), or deal with the psychology and feelings of the thing they made (the smarter way out, and the one “Splice” goes with). “Splice,” despite its banality of plotting, it refreshingly skilled in it execution, and Natali makes sure that the hero scientists not only have to answer some hard questions, but begins to ask questions that audiences wouldn’t be comfortable with hearing. I don’t want to give too much away, suffice to say that “Splice” may have some scenes that everyone will find really icky (in an exhilarating way), and I’m not just talking about the scene where the fleshy, penis-shaped slug monsters mate.
The scientists in question are Clive and Elsa (named, no doubt, after Colin Clive and Elsa Lanchester from “Bride of Frankenstein”), and are played by Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley, both strikingly intelligent actors. Clive and Elsa are rock ‘n’ roll geneticists who wear hipster t-shirts under their lab coats, and live together in unmarried bliss. Clive wants a child. Elsa, not so much. During the day, they mix animal DNA to create the aforementioned slug monsters, and bicker with the corporate master who fund their lab, and have commanded them to make these monsters to that enzymes and proteins for medicinal purposes. Elsa figures that a little human DNA in the genetic cocktail could do the job better, and, secretly, she and Clive decide to make their only little part-human creature.
Clive is a little wigged out by the prospect of a human-animal hybrid, but Elsa is pleased to be growing a little baby of her own, and gives plenty of requisite speeches about the power of the human mind to create. The result of their experiment is Dren, a creature that starts out looking like an amphibious jerboa, but quickly grows into a damp human-looking animal with widely-set eyeballs, a cranial rift, a tail, and a stinger. Dren (played at first by child actress Abigail Chu, and quickly matures into French model Delphine Chanéac) does not speak, but seems to have the intelligence of a particularly bright primate. Or is, perhaps, even more intelligent; Dren soon learns English and an unexpected willfulness. It’s not long before Clive and Elsa have to sneak Dren out of their lab, and move her into a barn adjoining Elsa’s childhood home.
It’s hard to tell what Dren is thinking a lot of the time. Is she fully animal? How human is she? How much is she comprehending, and how much is instinctual? We don’t know, and neither do Elsa and Clive. Needless to say, the presence of this thing-child in their midst, has them both asking tough questions of themselves, and often coming up with bad answers. When Dren begins going through puberty, well, that’s a whole new can of worms…
But “Splice” is only partly an intelligent movie about the ethical questions of creating life, and only partly a creepy sci-fi allegory to the fears and trials of parenthood. It’s not even entirely a stirringly well-shot and well-though-out example of superior film design. It’s also a batshit nutty monster film which has the good taste to push its limits.
I mean, if a vaguely human monster started making eyes at you, what would you do?