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SPLICE (2010) (**)

This horror film is about scientists who take risks, much like its director Vincenzo Natali does with the story. The problem is these are bad scientists. I mean that in what they do and how they do it. They fool around with experiments they shouldn't… or should they. The film likes to put out these kinds of ideas, but isn't really interested in developing them. It's interested in getting to its Freudian nightmare of an ending.

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This horror film is about scientists who take risks, much like its director Vincenzo Natali does with the story. The problem is these are bad scientists. I mean that in what they do and how they do it. They fool around with experiments they shouldn't… or should they. The film likes to put out these kinds of ideas, but isn't really interested in developing them. It's interested in getting to its Freudian nightmare of an ending.

Clive Nicoli (Adrien Brody, THE PIANIST) and Elsa Kast (Sarah Polley, DAWN OF THE DEAD) are famed biogeneticists. The couple and partners have successfully combined the DNA of various creatures to create a new life form. The giant maggot-looking creatures are named Fred and Ginger. The pharmaceutical company they work for will make millions on the animal disease cures the creations will create. While the company wants them to synthesize proteins for the next five years, the duo want to take their experiments to the next level by including human DNA into the mix. Of course company crony William Barlow (David Hewlett, TV's STARGATE: ATLANTIS) won't allow it, not because the firm has moral objections, but because it would be a marketing disaster.

But Clive and Elsa are scientific rebels. They want to prove to themselves they can do it. They keep telling themselves they'll stop at the next landmark, but then keep pushing it until they have Dren (Delphine Chaneac, THE PINK PANTHER), a humanoid creation that is growing and maturing at an accelerated rate. Eventually, they have to hide her in a barn at Elsa's family farm. Dren quickly gets bored with the tedium of being locked up and starts acting out. Is she more human or animal and which side is more dangerous?

But this film isn't really about big issues like that. It tickles on issues like valuable science vs. marketable science, bio-ethics and the nature of being human. The first theme is the most successful in some ways. It permeates everything that happens in the story. The plot never deals with the ramifications directly, but in some ways that is good because it avoids other science movie clichés where evil corporations take over the good scientists' work to exploit it. The second theme is handled with hit or miss accuracy. When the film deals with the observation of Dren, the film taps into good science. But some of the moves Clive and Elsa make would have Victor Frankenstein calling them egotists. It weakens our support for them, but never goes where we think they have gone over the edge like Jeff Goldblum's Brundie-Fly in THE FLY. There is also a moment where Elsa wonders how Clive knew Dren had amphibian lungs that makes Elsa seem ridiculously clueless. Like dumb blonde reality show clueless.

The last issue is where the film disappoints the most. Nicoli is too interested in his scientists and skips the really interesting element of the story — Dren. Elsa treats her like a child to such a degree, when she has clearly evolved past Elmo, that it becomes comical. These are the greatest scientists of our time and they seem too shwoopy about their baby. Elsa scolds her for throwing things over in anger and bickers with Clive for not punishing her. It comes off so silly. I was hoping for the relationship between Clive and Elsa and Dren to be more like the relationship between the scientist and the boy raised by wolves in Francois Trauffaut's THE WILD CHILD. If human DNA is only a fraction of her make-up, what are her feelings and motivations? What really makes humans different from the animals? But this film isn't interested.

What the film does seem interested in is jumping the shark or nuking the fridge or whatever you want to call it. Natali takes the film in a very disturbing direction. But he just throws it out there to screw with the viewer's heads. It might have worked if it was developed more or handled in a more subtle way. But as it's presented, the turn runs right into farce. Brody and Polley handle the material with earnestness, but the material betrays them, because it tries to move past what happened in a reasonable timeframe, but there isn't really a reasonable timeframe for the characters to actually deal with what happens honestly. The conclusion unravels everything that came before and makes one think the whole purpose of the film was to create this single "wouldn't that be messed up" moment. And when you're dealing with genetic alteration the Freudian implications are endless.

Natali is capable of making good films — see THE CUBE. Actually there are some good pieces in here, but he took a chance and fell on his face. In an effort to go for shock he ends up with shlock. Delicacy could have delivered something far more disturbing about what motivates us all.

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Rick DeMott
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