Vincenzo Natali is an interesting director. He made a splash with Cube, one of the most original yet poorly acted science fiction films I've ever seen. He followed that up with Cypher, which I haven't seen and can therefore not comment on, and Nothing, a surreal and existential look at what happens when two losers will away the universe, replacing everything but their house with a white, bouncy void. Followed by a documentary and a segment in Paris, I Love You, we now get Splice, the Canadian director's stark vision of what happens when man tries to play God.

Clive and Elsa, played by Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley, are two genetic engineers working on the splicing of animal DNA in search of proteins that may prove beneficial for mankind. Intent on continuing their research with human DNA, they propose their ideas to their superiors, only to be shot down in favor of taking their research in a different direction. Not content with abandoning everything they worked for, they take the next step on their own: splicing animal DNA with that of a human. At first their approach toward their new creation, which they name Dren, differs, but as she grows up (at a rate that far exceeds a normal individual's), they begin to treat her as if she's one of their own. As Dren changes physically, so to does her personality. An affront to God ensues.
The biggest flaw with Splice is its scope. Natali simply tries to do too much in terms of conveying a message, and it all seems muddled. It's done in an incredibly heavy-handed way, deviating from the initial ethical implications of creating a human/animal hybrid in favor of bizarre themes surrounding parenting, pseudo-incest and bestiality. Much of this ties into Clive and Elsa's relationship, as well as Elsa's past, all of which just manages to feel incredibly tedious and insulting to the bigger picture the first act introduces. By the time the third act arrives, the film enters creature feature territory, and despite being predictable, manages to be the most entertaining aspect of the film.

The entire second act and most of the third focus primarily on the parenting themes, allowing little time for the film to explore the science behind splicing the DNA. Although seemingly inconsequential to the bigger picture, the entire process was condensed into a three minute SCIENCE! montage that did little to explain anything. The whole thing boiled down to a spur of the moment decision accomplished in a manner of days in a covert operation that somehow managed to go unnoticed in a massive pharmacology laboratory, which just doesn't seem believable.

Despite the aforementioned criticisms, I certainly didn't hate Splice. Much like Natali's previous film Nothing, I was simply confused by it. I don't understand why they took it in the direction they did, and most of my complaints are born out of simple disagreement. I also find some of the acting to be forced-- Adrien Brody is a fine actor, but I felt he had to strain the sort of emotion Natali was looking for. Beyond this, there were several aspects of the film that were utterly brilliant, with the creature effects leading the pack.

Headed in part by special effects guru Greg Nicotero, Dren's transformation from small jerboa-like creature with a head that vaguely resembles a penis to a full-grown bald woman that vaguely resembles the Poekmon Mewtwo, was phenomenal. In the beginning we're introduced to Fred and Ginger, bizarre blobs that bear a striking resemblance to, yes, the head of a penis, with an emphasis on what comes out of the head. Although this might seem odd, given the context of the film, the phallic imagery is wholly appropriate.

Vincenzo Natali has made a new niche for himself with his science fiction, and opinions of his films notwithstanding, it's hard to argue against his creativity. Ultimately Splice fails as both a horror film, with its heavy science-fiction bent sharing space with drama for a good majority of the film.The film simply won't be for everyone, and while some of the subject matter can be deemed controversial, its divisiveness should take a backseat to what I perceive to be a dramatic shift in tone throughout the film.
CATEGORIES Reviews, Horror