Film: Splice ****
Release Date: 29th November 2010
Running time: 104 mins
Director: Vincenzo Natali
Starring: Adrien Brody, Sarah Polley, Delphine Chaneac, Brandon McGibbon, Simona Maicanescu
Format: DVD + Blu-ray
Vincenzo Natali has every right to be confused. Thirteen years ago, Phillip Schofield was struggling to cut and run from children’s television, eventually escaping mundane holiday documentaries to front the National Lottery Winning Lines programme, thus becoming a national treasure in England, epitomised by a game-show called ‘The Cube’, nowhere near as mesmerising as Natali’s mythical head screw many years earlier. Natali, meanwhile, fought against the tide, and years went by without the further success his criminally underrated sci-fi thriller warranted. Finally, somebody also decided to give him another shot, and Splice was his riposte…
Clive and Elsa are young and gifted Genetic Engineers, able to create new hybrids by splicing DNA from various animals. Blocked to delve further by their backers, a pharmaceutical company that funds their research, they must take the project underground.
Risking their careers they meddle with the boundaries of science by using the DNA from humans as well as that from different animals, creating Dren, a unique creature that’s not only intelligent but boasts unexpected physical attributes including an abnormal growth rate.
Trying to keep this beautiful monster a secret when all Dren wants to do is escape her mundane existence puts a huge strain on Clive and Elsa’s already fraught relationship, hindered by personal problems, increasingly suspicious backers, a devoted varmint and a botched scientific demonstration foreshadowing the gruesome horrors they are about to face…
It’s already common knowledge that Director Vincenzo Natali named his two protagonists after Elsa Lanchester and Colin Clive, leads from James Whale’s The Bride of Frankenstein (1935). Other than the mad scientist link, the only obvious comparison to Splice is Delphine Chaneac’s astonishing performance as Dren – her birdlike movements’ echo that of the Bride’s, with Lanchester once admitting she based her actions on the quick darting of swans. Expressive without the need for language, Chaneac does what Natasha Henstridge failed to do in Species (1995) and gives an intense yet beautiful performance that really tugs on the heartstrings.
The other two leads aren’t bad either: Polley is stubborn and ambitious, Brody is easily led and doesn’t like taking risks, but their relationship is believable and familiar as they try desperately to pull each other into similar directions (she wants a bigger house to work in but he wouldn’t mind her giving it up to raise a child). Neither character is off screen for any longer than a minute at a time, which enables the viewer to get to know them inside out. The problem is by having such few characters, even when Dren is teetering on madness, it wouldn’t make any sense to eliminate either Clive or Elsa, so tension is inevitably lost during those volatile scenes, and along with it some intriguing opportunities.
Having said that, one of the surprising things about Splice is its ability to turn the mad scientist movie into a fascinating drama, aroused by failing relationships and dark taboos neither Clive nor Elsa can hide from. There may be little in the way of scares during the opening two acts but that doesn’t matter because there are plenty of shocks, thanks to some ingenious plot devices and previously hidden character traits.
Only during the finale does the body count increase, and those that initially succumb to the frenzy are mere fodder an audience has failed to bond with. It’s a good excuse to dazzle us with some impressive effects though, even if you could be left wanting just that little bit more, Natali refusing to slow things down in a scene that if you blink you may miss the money shot. Only when Brody and Polley are under threat does the director finally manage to play out a tense, albeit brief, hide and seek, including a sinister twist that you probably won’t see coming. A lack of gore throughout will disappoint a few, but to compensate those splatter fans there is a completely insane botched scientific experiment that is arguably the best moment Splice will throw at you.
Natali’s ability to surprise is what makes this movie so enjoyable. Just when it seems the film is falling into a generic minefield he manages to take your breath away – it’s certainly not humbled to revel in such enjoyable fun. The introduction of Dren is tense and well-timed, not to mention impossibly cute, Clive’s attempts to drown their mistake adds a much-needed kick up the backside, the already mentioned performance by Ginger and Fred as hilarious as it is gory, while the twist that immediately follows hints at an intriguing move the script doesn’t fail to deliver. Other great moments involve Dren’s evolutionary add-on, a look away moment for cat lovers and two sexual encounters that will send your jaw plummeting to the floor.
By turning from Science fiction to all-out horror and switching locations midway through proceedings (gothic remote farmhouse always a winner) the screenplay does begin to tread familiar ground, and this is all a bit disappointing, delivering few chills and not enough action to keep the viewer on the edge of their seat. Even more frustrating is Dren mark two – whereas Dren was able to express her feelings with mesmerising ease, Natali does the unthinkable and decides to add the art of articulation to his monster’s list of attributes. Not only is the whole thing ultimately pointless, it’s cringe worthy, embarrassing and although only comprising of two futile words, nearly destroys all the good that went before it. Note to Natali: Monsters should never talk.
Able to belie its low budget constraints, Splice is a fascinating, fast-paced blend of Sci-fi and horror with the genuine ability to surprise and entertain, complimented by impressive performances and an utterly bewitching monster.