Last October we reviewed Vincenzo Natali’s Cube, a 1997 Canadian horror movie that seems to have slowly and surely built a strong cult following over the years (and rightfully so, as it’s good.) It was a bit of surprise to see Natali back with Splice in June 2010, writing and directing a horror film for the first time since Cube – and this time with a fairly big name cast and the movie going wide in U.S. theaters.
In Splice, Elsa (Sarah Polley) and Clive (Adrien Brody) are scientists who create a human animal hybrid by splicing together DNA from various species. As the hybrid, Dren (Delphine Chanéac), rapidly develops into something more human than animal, the lines between science experiment subject and child are blurred. Elsa and Clive struggle with the ethical implications- they can’t tell anyone about their breakthrough because human testing is illegal, and they can’t just kill Dren because she’s part human.
The story is instantly engaging. As Dren is introduced over the first two thirds of the movie, she evokes a response almost like the Elephant Man, a deep sympathy with some curiosity and a little revulsion. This provides an emotional punch to the ethical conflict that develops between Elsa and Clive. They rail against each other some, not quite sure what role to take with Dren or how to deal with her. The audience has similarly mixed feelings that shift and change as Dren quickly mutates, and we’re forced to reevaluate things again. Natali has a gift for making genre movies that are competent and suspenseful as standard horror, but also ask the audience ethical or philosophical questions that resonate on a much deeper level.
TV Casualties Rating:
|Run Time: 104 minutes|
|Directed by: Vincenzo Natali|
|Written by: Vincenzo Natali|
|Starring: Adrien Brody, Sarah Polley, Delphine Chanéac|
|Theatrical Release: 06/04/10|
|DVD Release: 10/05/10|
|Production Budget: $26 million|
|Domestic Gross: $17 million|
|Metacritic Score: 66/100|
|Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 74%|
Visually, Splice has some of the best CGI I’ve seen. It was about halfway through the movie before I even stopped to consider the fact that a lot of what I was watching wasn’t real, and then wondered how they did it. Everything looked solid and tangible. It didn’t have that super phony CGI sheen. There were tricks to make Dren’s eyes extremely far apart when viewed from straight ahead – essentially some CGI or other effect literally on one of the lead’s faces for the bulk of her screen time – and I could not tell how they achieved this. It looked unsettling and inhuman in the ways they clearly intended, but it didn’t look fake the way Jar-Jar Binks looks fake.
And yet somehow, great visuals, a great story idea and a very good cast did not add up to a great movie. I’ve never said this before, but Splice was a movie crippled by its overly speedy pace. Too much story was crammed into the allotted time, and the plot and character development seemed forced. For example, in an early scene, Elsa and Clive are wracking their brains trying to figure out how they can possibly bind the animal DNA with the human DNA, something considered nearly impossible. The entire transition from “Try this!” and “Damn! It didn’t work. We’ll never figure it out.” to “OMG, it worked!” takes about 30 seconds. In the grand scheme of the movie, this is actually one of the more forgivable cases of blazing through a scene to set things up, but almost the entire movie was that rapid. By the time things frantically raced – literally – through the final chase scene and climax, the lack of real thrills leaves you feeling that the movie didn’t live up to its early promise.
Splice would probably have made for an awesome book or first season of a TV show. Instead, it’s merely a pretty good movie.