What would happen if two rock-star geneticists combined human and animal DNA? Clearly hilarity. Now what would happen if Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley were said rock-stars? Still mostly hilarity. But actually in a pretty good way.
Splice is a fun movie. The premise is exactly as described above. Brody is Clive and Polley is Elsa. They’re the cream of the crop in the genetics world, and they’re also rebels (but with causes). After their program is threatened with a shutdown they decide to go rogue, and combine animal and human DNA. The result: Dren (Nerd spelled backwards). Not knowing what to expect from their creation or from the powers-that-be should she be discovered, they hide her in Elsa’s childhood barn. Dren learns, grows, becomes attractive to Clive in an awkwardly awesome scene, and gradually exhibits both traits of extreme psychosis and humanness (though those aren’t really mutually exclusive. At all). Oh, and she also eventually starts to learn how to use some of her animal characteristics.
What makes Splice fun is the absolute seriousness with which director Vincezo Natali (of Cube fame) takes the subject matter. That’s not to say there’s no intentional (and unintentional) humor. There’s plenty there, but Natali clearly wants to make a statement – on the state of science, what it means to be human, and inter-personal relationships. The humor that is present seems ripped from tabloid headlines, B science fiction films, and schlock horror. It’s actually a great mixture.
This isn’t your typical alien film in that the creature is very sympathetic, and closely aligned with the humans. It’s sort of a cross between the id/ego theoretics of a Forbidden Planet and more generic creature stuff. The horror in this film stems primarily from human atrocities committed against the alien, and not vice versa. In a wonderfully weird scene, Dren, becoming a woman, starts to get jealous of Elsa’s relationship with Clive. When Elsa confronts her, Dren becomes violent. Elsa knocks Dren out, straps her to a table, and cuts off part of her tail. The film oscillates, in scenes like this, between cautionary parental tale, and full-on extra-terrestrial horror, but it’s supposed to play out as both. As creators, Elsa and Clive are parents, and the Eraserhead-like warning turns darker as incest and pregnancy come into the mix. The genre hybrids and semi-revisionist stance pull the film away from true horror, likely to the dismay of some fans, but also place it in the more unique position of successful social commentary hidden within an entertainment package.
Splice isn’t a perfect film, but it doesn’t really misstep from its chosen path too much. The satire is laid on thick, particularly in a scene where Clive and Elsa are to present their latest genetics experiment (aside from Dren) to a group of wealthy patrons. Things turn violent, blood is splattered ala an activist throwing paint on a fur, and the event foreshadows much larger, drastic stuff.
Natali doesn’t shy away from the blood and the ooze, but he also knows how to control the emotional content of a scene. Dren, played very well by Delphine Chaneac, communicates largely in ticks and head twitches, but Natali is wise to settle on her reactions fairly frequently. When she’s been scolded he often ends the scene with her sadness.
There are also some nice psychological moments between Dren and Clive that verge on the supernatural: she watches from behind a translucent screen as Clive and Elsa have sex. She’s only a silhouette and is gone silently. He watches her underwater on video cameras they have installed. As he touches the video monitor she also touches the lens of the camera. Shot-reverse-shot of a dance sequence places the camera on a Snorricam, where it’s attached to the body of the actor to mimic their movements and float along with them. The technique isolates the rest of the world, making it a “true love” moment.