Movie review by Greg Carlson
Vincenzo Natali’s “Splice” splices together horror and science fiction with satisfying results, although real gore-hounds might be put off by the deliberate pacing and the significant amount of relationship melodrama that eats up far more screen time than the gruesome and queasy special effects masterminded by Robert Munroe, Howard Berger and Gregory Nicotero. Featuring top-shelf talent Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley (named affectionately for Colin Clive and Elsa Lanchester of “Bride of Frankenstein”) as a pair of modern day mad scientists, “Splice” pays tribute to several touchstones, from the body dread of David Cronenberg’s “The Fly” to the parental anxiety of David Lynch’s “Eraserhead.”
Released under the Dark Castle Entertainment banner, “Splice” instantly embraces its B-picture pedigree, and Natali strikes a comfortable balance between earnestness and mockery. Arguably, the movie’s greatest strength is its relentless commitment to not take itself too seriously, and Natali and his actors fully commit to the impossibility, peculiarity, and insanity of the tale. Stealing kisses in between DNA sequencing attempts, Brody and Polley dress like rock stars and decorate their apartment with pop art canvases and designer Nathan Jurevicius vinyl toys. Brody’s Clive adorns his lab coat with punk-invoking military patches and cockily wears a checkered suit to a meeting with corporate investors. In the ultimate geek fantasy, Clive and Elsa even appear together on the cover of “Wired.”
The film’s scene-stealing main attraction, however, is Clive and Elsa’s “baby” Dren (“nerd” backwards in the clumsiest of the script’s asides), the genetically engineered monster whose journey from incubation to full sexual maturity is documented in impressive detail. A blend of performance, prosthetics, and computer generated imagery, Dren quickly evolves from something resembling a kangaroo rat/tadpole/human cross to an otherworldly beauty hypnotically blending actor Delphine Chaneac’s alien allure with some of the most fearsome attributes of William Blake’s Great Red Dragon paintings. Despite, or perhaps because of the layers of metamorphosed oddity, Chaneac is thoroughly engaging and sympathetic, recalling on several occasions Karloff’s mostly wordless longing and anguish as Frankenstein’s nameless creature.
Clive and Elsa react to their perverse progeny with an alarming number of staggeringly poor parenting decisions. Initially, Clive’s jealousy and nervousness threaten to explode into total panic, and brushes with near infanticide strain his relationship with Elsa to the breaking point. In a smart piece of writing, Clive and Elsa reverse roles as Dren assumes the awkwardness and confusion of adolescence. The previously nurturing and protective Elsa, suffering from the post-traumatic stress of her own hellish childhood, resents Dren’s growing independence while Clive falls under the spell of the mutant’s one-of-a-kind charms. Dren, naturally, suffers in spectacular fashion.
The escalation of the film’s parody of family psychodrama points to a predictable physical showdown, and several critics have bemoaned what might be perceived as a perfunctory climax. While genre devotees will anticipate many details of the final action and denouement, “Splice” is no less satisfying for insisting on the old-fashioned morality that is a paramount value of humans-playing-God stories. “Splice” is ultimately a traditional cautionary tale that does double duty as a warning against the Pandora’s Box consequences of rapid, ethically dubious technological advancement and as a delirious illustration of the worst nightmares of any mother or father.
This review was also published in the High Plains Reader the week of 6/7/10.