Monday, June 7, 2010

Movie Review: Splice

Splice ***
Directed By:
Vincenzo Natali.
Written By: Vincenzo Natali & Antoinette Terry Bryant and Doug Taylor.
Starring: Adrien Brody (Clive Nicoli), Sarah Polley (Elsa Kast), Delphine Chanéac (Dren), Brandon McGibbon (Gavin Nicoli), Simona Maicanescu (Joan Chorot), David Hewlett (William Barlow), Abigail Chu (Child Dren).

Watching Splice, I could tell is was a Canadian film, and not an American one. No major American science fiction film would be able to get away with what writer/director Vincenzo Natali does in this film – who takes a basic premise, and turns it into the most warped, sexually twisted sci-fi film of the year – in fact of the last few years. I kept thinking of David Cronenberg when I was watching this film, as it reminded me of something he would have done early in his career.

Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley play two scientists who have just had a major breakthrough. They have been working for years at combining the DNA of different animals to create a new creature – one that may hold out hope for curing diseases, and they have finally cracked it. They have created Fred and Ginger, two blobs of tissue (that look kind of like the video controllers in Cronenberg’s eXistenZ). The creatures look disgusting, have no legs, no eyes that I could see, and little else. They are essentially giant slugs, but they seem to love each other. Not only that, but they produce a protein that can help cure disease in cattle. To Brody and Polley, the breakthrough is huge – and a sign that they should introduce human DNA into the next creature, and hopefully this could help cure numerous diseases. But they are told not to. It is technically illegal, as it would constitute cloning humans, although they do not see it that way. What they are told to do instead is extract the protein from Fred and Ginger, and get a product ready for the market. After that – a process that could take years – they’ll see what the next step should be.

They are both disappointed, but Polley especially. She wants to push forward, and convinces Brody, who is not just her partner but her husband, to do so in secret. First, they just want to see if they can actually merge the human DNA with the animal to create the “semen” of the new creature. They do. Then they want to see if they can actually inseminate the false uterus. They do that too. They never meant to bring the creature full term – but it grows at a remarkable rate, so course, soon they have a creature born, and are trying to hide it in their lab without anyone finding out. The creature at first looks kind of like that horrible baby in David Lynch’s Eraserhead, but grows at a remarkable rate until it almost likes like a human with a horrible, poisonous spiked tail. Brody is at first horrified by what they have done and wants to kill it, but Polley grows attached to it.

Splice is like a modern day Frankenstein tale. It is about two people who play God, and wreck the consequences of their actions. The films first two acts are intelligently written, directed and performed. I assume that this was a fairly low budget production (it is Canadian after all), but the special effects are remarkable on the budget they have. The problems arise in the third act – which is the film’s most ambitious, and separates it from most movies of its ilk, but also the most problematic. I will not reveal what happens, but needless to say, it involves a lot of sex, that morphs into violence. I admired the film for following its instincts, and pushing things as far as it did – which is much farther than I thought it would. At the same time however, I could not help but think that the film’s final act was slightly ridiculous. And there were too many needless “action” sequences – chases and fights, and things going bump in the night, that frankly, were beneath the film that preceded it.

I admired Splice a great deal. It is certainly one of the most ambitious sci-fi films in recent years. It doesn’t back away from its subject matter, but rather confronts it head on. It is also a disturbing film that has stuck with me every since I have seen it, and shows no signs of going away. The film is a problematic one to be sure, but it is still one that I admire and recommend for fans of sci-fi, who want something a little deeper, a little darker, and a little more disturbing than they usually get.

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