In a world where it seems that David Cronenberg has left the realm of horror films behind in favor of crime films, it’s nice to see that someone is attempting to take up the mantle left in his wake. The fact that someone is Vincenzo Natali, director of 1997’s brilliantly understated Cube, makes Splice all the more promising. Throw in the talented Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley, and you’re pretty much ensured an entertaining experience.
Brody and Polley play Clive and Elsa, a pair of edgy biochemists dabbling in gene splicing in search of cures for various human maladies. The film opens with their creation of a new hybrid species. Having successfully combined several animal species, the ambitious couple, anxious to take their experiments to the next level, ignores the instructions of their corporate sponsor and secretly proceeds to add human DNA to the mix. Blinded by their zeal and dismissing the moral implications of cloning humans by rationalizing that what they’re creating “won’t be human, not entirely,” the pair set out on a journey into uncharted territory, forgetting how often the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
Defying the laws of man, nature, and God in one fell swoop, Clive and Elsa create Dren, the first human-animal hybrid, adding insult to injury with the sarcastic quip, “If God did not want us to explore his domain, then why did he give us the map?” But as Dren quickly grows, evolving into more than they ever imagined, and the dynamics of their relationship change with the addition of this new “child,” Clive and Elsa begin to realize that there are consequences for meddling with the blueprints of creation.
This is all fairly familiar sci-fi horror fare, in the same vein as Jurassic Park, Frankenstein, Re-Animator, Species, and The Fly. Will scientists ever learn? For the sake of the genre, probably not, in fact, they always seem completely oblivious to the stories that parallel their own, as if each exists in its own reality, free from the detritus of derivative, creational cautionary tales.
Nevertheless, Natali gives us an entertaining, Cronenbergian addition to the genre. Right out of the gate Splice is an extremely visceral experience, from the credit sequence composed of muscle, nerves, and flesh, to the amorphous animal hybrids that seem like walking tongues. Then, of course, there’s Dren, who at first appears like a cross between a kinder, gentler chestburster-alien and a hairless cat, only to evolve into something that seems more and more human. The film’s fairly firm focus on the evolution of the flesh is, I think, very much in line with Cronenberg’s own “body horror” films, specifically: Shivers, Rabid, The Brood, Videodrome, and The Fly.
Brody and Polley play off each other very well, evoking the initial tension in Clive and Elsa’s relationship stemming, in part, from his desire for a family and her aversion to it, the following shift in dynamics as he is hesitant to proceed with the creation of an animal human hybrid and she is determined to charge full-steam ahead, and their constant back and forth. Delphine Chanéac is captivating as Dren, much like Boris Karloff as the monster in Frankenstein, bringing incredible emotion and pathos to the role of this alien creature without ever saying a word. The film rests mainly on the performances of these three, and they do a wonderful job of carrying the load.
As much as I like this film, the third act feels a bit rushed and leaves something to be desired. Splice is 2/3 of a great film and 1/3 of a mediocre one. And it’s not a matter of a bad ending. I was actually quite pleased with the end of the film; it’s just the way in which we get there. The ten minutes leading up to the last scene were not quite on the same level as the rest of the film. I feel like there were more satisfying ways to reach the same conclusion. Still, it is an extremely enjoyable film, and a welcome reprieve from the slew of tired sequels and boring remakes. If you like smart, inventive sci-fi horror, then you should definitely check out Splice. Watch the trailer below.