Definition: SPLICE — to unite or join together different parts. Genetics: to join different segments of DNA together to create a new entity.
That is exactly what happens in the new film “Splice” from Vincenzo Natali (director of 1997’s “Cube”) who directed and co-wrote the script, and producer Guillermo Del Toro (director of “Pan’s Labyrinth” and “Hellboy”). In “Splice,” Clive (Adrian Brody) and Elsa (Sarah Polley) are two brilliant hipster geneticists who work for N.E.R.D. (Nuclear Exchange Research and Development) and are the company’s superstars who have been working in their labs to mix together and create whole new organisms from different animals DNA.
They succeed in two brainy-blob type creatures (Fred and Ginger) that have the ability to make a protein enzyme that can cure diseases in animals and livestock. The obvious next step is for Clive and Elsa to introduce human DNA into the mix to see if it would culture any enzymes that can be used to cure human illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease or cancer. The pharmaceutical company behind their research forbids it, for ethical and moral reasons. Without permission, they go off on their own and add human DNA. After they mix together the concoction of untold animal characteristics, they were supposed to freeze the embryo, then Elsa persuades Clive to inseminate an egg with it (the old Adam and Eve scenario).
The by-product is a creature that develops at such a rapid rate that it is full term in less than a month. When it’s first born, it looks like a hairless kangaroo — Clive wants to kill it and study it, but Elsa persuades him that they could learn more from watching its accelerated life span. Within a matter of weeks, it resembles a little girl and they decide to name it “Dren” (played wonderfully by Delphine Chanéac). She shows remarkable cognitive recognition and identification and like it’s her own daughter, Elsa starts to teach her and Dren soaks up every bit of information around her. As their work at the lab begins to suffer because their attention is fully on raising Dren, they have a few set-backs in their regular research and are under a closer watch, so they have to move Dren out of N.E.R.D.’s facilities and into Elsa’s old family farm. Now Dren is already in the adolescent stage and it’s only been a few weeks, she starts to exhibit new animal characteristics and predatory tendencies along with a normal teenage rebellious attitude. They lock her up in the old barn, but she is desperate to go out and explore. Clive and Elsa know that can’t happen. Now Dren can’t speak, she make squeaking noises like a cartoon squirrel, but has no problem in communicating her emotions. From there, things start to get more intense and weird, but I’m not going to talk about the third act because it was the best part of the whole movie and if you knew about it there would be no point in seeing the film.
“Splice” is being categorized as a horror/thriller but in my opinion it’s more of a sci-fi/drama. Adrian Brody and Sarah Polley work well together, they have a legitimate relationship onscreen; throughout the movie I kept thinking that they were reminiscent of “Scully & Mulder” investigating in the “X-Files.” The biggest shortcoming in this movie, though, is the script — the dialogue is familiar and although the director tries to shock the audience, the majority of the “shocks” are seen coming a mile away because they have been used time and time again.
While I think Natali was going for a cult classic horror film, I doubt “Splice” will hold up to the likes of “Frankenstein” or “Rosemary’s Baby.” I can’t ignore the obvious correlation between this movie and the “Species” franchise — there are a lot of similarities between the two and maybe that’s what made this movie so predictable. The movie disturbs you, because of the human resemblance of Dren and also because this technology of “splicing” does exist and there’s a hint of truth in the story’s plot that makes you uneasy while watching.
The best qualities to this film include the cinematography by Tetsuo Nagata and the special effects by C.O.R.E. Digital Pictures. The blend of CG and makeup were flawlessly woven together to the point where you don’t even question the reality of the many transformations Dren goes through.
Lastly, I can’t forget to talk about the French actress Delphine Chanéac, who plays the title character. She gives Dren a subtly and an an innocence, but at the same time an underlying ferociousness. I loved the animalistic way she moves her body and also how she showed massive emotions throughout the film without ever speaking a single word in the film. You never are questioning what she’s feeling. This movie does have a few exciting moments … then they become unsettling.
Overall, I wasn’t quite impressed and I wasn’t quite disappointed. By the end, this unconventional story fell into the typical thriller mode and let me down. I asked many other patrons at the screening what they thought and the majority of them didn’t find it scary but more disturbing and were not overly impressed.
“Splice” premiered in 2009 at Sitges Film Festival, where it won “Best Special Effects,” and after a bidding war with multiple movie studios, Warner Bros. won distribution rights. This film is rated “R” for disturbing images, strong sexuality, nudity, sci-fi violence and language.
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