Splice (2010) dir. Vincenzo Natali
Starring: Adrien Brody, Sarah Polley, David Hewlett, Delphine Chanéac
By Alan Bacchus
With ‘Splice’ Vincenzo Natali continues his distinct mix of auteur intellectual science fiction he established so boldly with ‘Cube’, then broadened with ‘Cypher’ and ‘Nothing’. The high concept Natali has chosen to explore in his latest film is the area of bioengineering and genetics, an intense retooling of Frankenstein for the genetics generation.
Natali, working under the guidance of Guillermo Del Toro as executive producer, boldly pushing his cinematic boundaries of genre cinema producing a film so audacious he dares critics, and audiences, for good or bad, not to stand up and notice his film.
Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley plays Else and Clive, a husband and wife team of superstar biochemists, whose work on creating animal hybrids finds them on the cusp of some major biomedical discoveries. But when the corporate heavies threaten to shut down their laboratories Else recklessly tries to combine human DNA with their test subject. The result is a unique new form of animal, a hairless anthropoid with tiny arms, squinting eyes and rabbit like legs. The duo soon discover the creature is growing like a fetus outside the womb into a woman-like beast creature.
Despite violent debates about the ethics of manufacturing such a creature without proper trial and experimentation there’s no doubt the creature is semi-intelligent and a full fledged growing and learning life form. Under the nose of the company the duo become father and mother to the animal whom they name Dren. But the blissful family dynamic doesn’t last as conflict from within and outside the trio threaten them all.
With today’s special effects technology available Natali masterfully manages the temptation to overdesign his creature effects. He approaches this aspect of his visual design with delicate kid gloves. The birthing scene of the creature is rendered with spine tingling suspense and its reveal as a cute humanoid, hairless rabbit like creature is thrilling. We’ve never seen anything like this before.
While the ethical questions raised about playing God, or playing Dr. Frankenstein, are intellectually stimulating if not obvious, Natali keeps a sharp sense of humour in the foreground. Natali and his characters are aware of the absurdities of playing mother and father to a hybrid genetic beast who looks like a female centaur and they maximize the comic opportunities to lighten any over seriousness which threatens the enjoyment of the film.
And so Splice oscillates between progressive science fiction and old school b-movie tones. I think Natali knows his movie is not far removed from the monster movies of the 50’s substituting nuclear fears with trendier biomedical fears. The Fly is a good comparison. And in fact, as a Canadian filmmaker Natali cleverly plays on the foundation of fellow Canadian David Cronenberg’s predilections with bio-horror.
Admittedly Natali makes some creative choices in the second half which test the audience’s acceptance of this fine line between b-movie silliness and being just plain sick and twisted. But in horror and sci-fi what’s the point in holding back. Splice is the perfect Midnight Movie, a rousing and wildly imaginative neo science fiction cult classic in the making.