Starring: Adrien Brody, Sarah Polley, Delphine Chaneac, Brandon McGibbon
Director: Vincenzo Natali
Writer(s): Vincenzo Natali, Antoinette Terry Bryant
Cinematography: Tetsuo Nagata
Original Score: Cyrille Aufort
Running Time: 104 Mins.
Very few truly original horror film’s find their way out of the Hollywood studios, so it comes as some surprise to see that Joel Silver’s production company Dark Castle have picked up Splice to unleash on the movie-going public especially in America as this is fundamentally a very European/Canadian influenced horror film, the kind Cronenberg crafted in his heyday with The Fly and Videodrome, it is at once disturbing and awkwardly funny, gory and tender and deals with issues of sexual and parental love, not an easy mix to swallow and less easy to watch despite being eminently watchable.
That the lead characters are called Elsa and Clive (Sarah Polley and Adrian Brody, Polley as fractured a performance as ever while Brody redeems himself well after his Predators mess-up) should give any Horror film fan worth his salt some indication of where Splice is going and which film it is riffing on, for those not quite that geeky we are well and truly in Frankenstein territory, taking the bare bones of Mary Shelley’s novel and updating it for the genetic age in a plot that see’s a couple (in professional and personal life). Clive and Elsa, experimenting with gene splicing to create a being that, while resembling a giant slug crossed with a newborn mouse, has the handy side-effect of containing within its genetic make-up the cure for a number of diseases and potentially cancer.
While this concept on its own is setup enough for an interesting plot Elsa pushes to splice in a human gene with the animal genes, seemingly to prove she can do it over anything else, Clive is more wary but goes along with Elsa’s plan all of which results in Dren, a human/animal hybrid, a creature which starts out looking animal like and over the course of the film developes first into something resembling a little girl then a fully grown woman, albeit with a lethal tail and (on occasion) wings. Dropping the science in favour of a story that deals with the Elsa and Clive’s relationship with Dren makes for a compelling, and possibly, the most twisted family story ever.
Hurtling along at a non-stop pace means you have little time to consider the actions of the central pair, both seem arrogant as is the will of a scientist, but Elsa is deeply reckless and clearly harbours some twisted secrets in both her own past and with the creation, Dren. It will come as little surprise to see Elsa mothering Dren as if it were her own daughter but events take a much more twisted turn when the action moves to an old barn in the middle of nowhere and that root of much evil, jealousy, comes into play.
To reveal any more of the plot machinations would be to rob you of the shock, but suffice to say the film never falls into the trap of generic horror, and even in a stalk and slash sequence there is a twisted conclusion that means it never seems run-of-the-mill. I would love to see more exploration of the scientific side and ideas behind using Dren as a vessel for curing cancer but Splice is not a film concerned with such clinical reasons, director and writer has, and likely always will be, more concerned with the human response to situations beyond our control.
While not great Splice is, like its central being, a curiosity that presents something truly unique in a genre stuffed full of cliché, you could loosely classify it as an update on the Frankenstein story with as much focus on the horror of human emotion as there is on body horror.