6/5/10

Review: Splice (2009)


Oh, Splice, you had me at hello. Well, at least I was intrigued at hello. An over-the-top, campy, yet still minimally plausible DNA horror story, Splice is a Frankenstein tale with Oedipal overtones, truly outrageous consequences for that, and a few unique, perfect movie moments which will live in infamy for all time.

Vincenzo Natali's Splice stars Adrien Brody (The Darjeeling Limited) as Clive Nicoli and Sarah Polley (The Sweet Hereafter) as Elsa Kast, married genetic scientists who have their own cool custom lab at a pharmaceutical company, where nobody ever asks them why large glass-encased equipment has been repeatedly smashed all up.

They've created two living Mr. Potato Heads which mate in a visually entertaining way, intertwining their fluorescent tongues into a beautiful rose of light. Also, this new spliced species produces hormones which are in demand for livestock-raising purposes. This got Nicoli and Kast the cover of "Wired" magazine, which impresses them, anyway.

But the pharmaceutical folks are starting to look at the bottom line and wonder whether their "pure science" investment in the two eggheads is really going to pay off. The word comes down: Make us a product we can sell. Stop splicing and start slicing, figure us out exactly how this new species of yours makes these valuable hormone products so we can run with it.

Mad scientists as they are, however, this sounds boring and stupid to the brainiac couple. So instead, in what seems at first like an impetuous act, they decide to try to create a human hybrid in the lab, before the locks are changed. (I could swear the "random" female human sample they used was labeled "CA 92069," which, if true, is the end of my address.)

And so here we have Dren (Delphine Chenéac, very good), a humanoid growing at an alarming rate (as in Jack, though it's easier to sell Robin Williams as a genetic mutant). The name is a play on the name of the lab where she was invented, but more on the word "children." You know, like Robert Mitchum says it in The Night of the Hunter: "Chil-dren...." And "deoxyribonucleic." Over time, one gets the idea that she was created to be sort of an impregnable fairy--early on (Abigail Chu) she resembles the sprite from Ponyo--or Valkyrie, with obvious genetic-design heritage from squids, monkeys, cats, butterflies, pigs, kangaroo, goats, birds and more, including Fred and Ginger, the aforementioned flower-tongued superslugs, and one more possible parent I won't mention here.

There is a huge, and well-earned laugh in the film. I won't give anything away about it, but alone it is worth the price of a seat. I might even like to watch the film again with a bigger audience just for that moment, even though I never need to see this movie again. There is some unevenness of tone which keeps Splice from being what I would call a perfect film, but on the whole the plot developments make sense in context and have some fun with the general scientific ideas being explored.

Splice reminded me of Tarsem's The Cell, with a campy sci-fi framing story wrapped around some truly startling and interesting visual effects for the main story. Splice is not quite so visually inventive, though Dren is a major achievement of character design, in my humble opinion. (I have not seen Natali's previous The Cube, or it might have reminded me of that.) Also, it brought to mind John Frankenheimer's funny The Island of Dr. Moreau, and Nosferatu. It does get a little repetitive that the scientists are always like, "Yeah, we should definitely terminate this experiment now--but it's bathtime!" But Brody and Polley dive in gamely, and anchor the film through some truly crazy moments.

If you like horror, camp, campy horror, incredible silliness mixed with scientific sorta-plausibility, ripped from tomorrow's headlines, watch Splice and have a great time. If you have a weak stomach, it's not for you. And it's not for kids. But it is hilarious, very creepy and a little bit glorious.

Alex
The Magic of the Movies

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