When I was growing up I would hear of stories, movies or episodes of television that were touted as ‘not for the faint of heart.’ They promised thrills and surprises aimed at an adult audience, one that could handle the nature of the material. Not that they wouldn’t have nightmares afterward, mind you, just that they could handle those nightmares. Had Splice come out in such a time, it definitely would have been called not for the faint of heart. I’d go one step further, though, and say it’s not for the slow of brain, either.
Have you ever seen scientists acting or treated like rock stars? That’s the best way to describe Clive and Elsa. Iconoclastic, brilliant and possessed of the particular kind of crazy that makes advancements in modern science possible, they’re splicing together designer organisms for the benefit of a major bio-tech firm interested in the next big pharmacuetical breakthrough. Recent success has shown them the potential of splicing human DNA into the mix to provide clues for things like curing cancer and growing organs. Their sponsors, fearing a moral backlash, put the kibosh on that idea. So Clive and Elsa do it anyway. The experiment starts going awry almost immediately, but does result in a viable organism. Her name is Dren.
If I were to give a single piece of advice when it comes to Splice, I’d say go into it without any expectations. The movie’s plot, characters and structure pull the viewer in and carry them along while teasing their mind with questions of morality and scientific advancement. It doesn’t necessary spoon-feed you answers, but it doesn’t assume you don’t know what’s going on either. It’s the kind of movie that rewards, rather than punishes, higher thought aimed in its direction. It’s one of those movies you’ll be thinking about after you see it, and any revulsion you feel will probably be aimed at the subtleties of the subject matter rather than the movie itself. This isn’t a cheap, knock-off creature feature, folks. This is thoroughly cerebral and deeply disturbing science fiction.
Something made a nummy noise, and it wasn’t Clive or Elsa.
Director Vincenzo Natali provides the movie with its very careful pace and nuanced mood. It’s clear that in telling this story, he not only wants to entertain, he wants to raise questions. And the questions end up being as shocking as the entertainment. How much is science being held back by old ideas and antique sentiments? While the motivations of Clive and Elsa’s superiors might be rooted firmly in finances, the impetus for their reluctance to back the scientists up is framed in the notion that “there would be a moral outrage.” As much as the duo extol the virtues and potential benefits of their work, it’s unfortunately true that champions of ‘decency’ and religion would be inconsolably enraged and disturbed at the very idea of using human material in designer organisms. The movie, however, never really addresses this issue and keeps its focus tightly on our pair of protagonists.
Sarah Polley and Adrien Brody play Elsa and Clive as very smart people with bright ideas and disapproving superiors, forced to go rogue and underground to make those ideas come to life. But over and above their idealism and intelligence is the fact that these are very much people, with all that entails. Sure, they’re brilliant, attractive and have great attitudes, but they’re also flawed human beings with neuroses and insecurities. A lot of movies in this vein can dial down the human element to emphasize the monstser or monsters in play, but Splice doesn’t do that. It never feels like a firm line is drawn with one side of the argument in the right while the other is wrong. It’s left up to us to decide, and at the same time, we’re presented with the question of Dren.
Beautiful and disturbing at the same time, like a lot of stuff on DeviantArt.
For all of its highbrow ideas and good characterisation, this is still essentially a monster movie, and what a monster we have! Dren’s evolution happens before our very eyes, and without speaking a word she conveys volumes of emotion and information. As she matured I was reminded of the otherworldiness of a young Milla Jovovich in the Fifth Element, with the ways Dren moves and interacts with the world around her. This feeling is deepened with the subtle blending of great acting on the part of Delphine Chaneac and CGI never overwhelms the humanity of the actors. Dren is, like her ‘parents’, a very human creature, but is also so inhuman that it’s always quite clear we’re dealing with something different, something curious and intelligent… something thoroughly dangerous.
I’ve tried my utmost to avoid spoiling anything, because Splice is a movie best served without preamble or preconception. Like I said, leave your expectations at the door when this one starts. Unlike a lot of modern movies out there, it doesn’t hesitate to engage the mind while simultaneously entertaining and occasionally horrifying the senses. It never plays its odd elements for cheap scares, and disturbs in a way that’s much more David Cronenberg’s The Fly than anything dreamt up by Wes Craven or even Stephen King. It’s a superlative piece of work, probably the best science fiction film I’ve seen since Moon, and definitely, definitely worth a place on your Netflix queue.
Josh Loomis can’t always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it’s unclear if this week’s film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain… IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.
January 29, 2011 at 1:16 pm
Your write-up of this brilliant SF/horror film is as intelligent and thought-provoking as Clive and Elsa themselves! One of the things I like most about SPLICE is that its protagonists have brains and heart while still being flawed human beings like the rest of us…OK, maybe not EXACTLY like the rest of us in some ways. 🙂 Anyway, great review!