movie film review | chris tookey


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  Splice Review
Tookey's Rating
7 /10
Average Rating
6.00 /10
Clive - Adrien Brody , Elsa - Sarah Polley
Full Cast >

Directed by: Vincenzo Natali
Written by: Vincenzo Natali, Antoinette Terry Bryant and Douglas Taylor

Released: 2009
Origin: Canada/ France/ US
Colour: C
Length: 107

One of the yearís most unusual, imaginative and daring films.
Reviewed by Chris Tookey

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Maybe once or twice a year, a film comes along that is under-hyped but much better than you would expect. Splice is one of 2010ís most welcome surprises.

It is being marketed as bog-standard, scary horror Ė which is precisely what it isnít. Despite an over-conventional, slasher-film climax, Splice is an ingenious piece of science fiction, with a fresh angle on an old subject, and a couple of highly intelligent performances at its core.

It joins a long list of science fiction movies about experiments that go wrong. Among the best have been Frankenstein, Jurassic Park and two versions of The Fly. To these, we can now add Splice.

Clive (Adrien Brody, pictured right, the Oscar-winning actor from The Pianist) and Elsa (Sarah Polley, marvellous in The Sweet Hereafter and My Life Without Me) are nerdy genetic researchers who have created two spectacularly ugly life-forms, nicknamed Ginger and Fred, from which they hope to harvest drugs which will help the fight against cancer, Parkinsonís, Alzheimerís and diabetes.

The arguments they use are the same that have accompanied stem cell research. They are undeterred by previous failed experiments, which they have called Ė somewhat ominously Ė Bonnie & Clyde, and Sid & Nancy.

Another hint of unpleasantness to come is when Elsa cuddles one of her grotesque creations and coos ďItís so cute!Ē Itís comically reminiscent of parents who canít see that their newborn offspring bear a strong resemblance to Mussolini or John Prescott.

Outside the lab, Clive and Elsa are a couple too. He wants babies, but she doesnít. She was abused by her mother during childhood, and fears that her own maternal instincts arenít strong enough.
Out of curiosity, they decide to introduce human DNA into their experiments, even though their amoral, profit-driven bosses forbid it.

ďWhatís the worst that could happen?Ē asks Elsa brightly.

They are about to find out.

Their creation starts out as a mixture between a plucked chicken and the thing that burst out of John Hurtís chest in Alien. It develops with frightening speed into something humanoid.

Clive panics and tries to drown it, with unexpected results. Elsa bonds with the creation and dresses it Ė her Ė in a little blue dress. Elsa calls her Dren, which is Nerd backwards. Dren starts to communicate her needs through Scrabble tiles.

When Dren becomes too big to be hidden in their laboratory, they transport her to an isolated farm-house that Elsa has inherited. Dren develops further characteristics, some angelic, some less so.
Played by the supple French actress Delphine Chaneac (pictured left) with help from the special effects department, she becomes an intriguing mixture of dangerous and sexy.

As she reaches rebellious adolescence, she becomes more and more seductive, but with a serpentís tongue and an all too literal sting in her tail.

Towards the end, Dren becomes a creature not unlike the monster played by Natasha Henstridge in Species (1995) and Species II (1998); and Splice deteriorates into cliche. It tries to please downmarket horror fans with a climactic chase and a twist that we have seen too many times before.

But most of Splice is fresh and imaginative.

Over the coming decades, advances in genetic engineering are going to pose many tricky questions of morality. Splice is one of the first, and best, films to explore these issues.

Its horrific elements wonít endear it to the squeamish. In the gloopiness of the special effects, with its sense of oozing corruption and sticky sensuality, it resembles the first two Alien movies and David Cronenbergís icky remake of The Fly.

With its quirky, tragi-comic tone, the film Splice most resembles is Bride of Frankenstein (1935). It can hardly be a coincidence that the leading charactersí names are Elsa, surely named after Elsa Lanchester, who played the title character, and Clive, after Colin Clive, who played Frankenstein.

Though now acknowledged as a classic, The Bride of Frankenstein didnít go down well on release, because it had a sense of humour. Splice has one too.

An especially funny sequence, where a demonstration of Ginger mating with Fred goes horribly wrong, is followed by an aftermath thatís very cleverly written and acted Ė and not at all as you would expect in a conventional horror flick.

Such unusual, jarring changes from horror to comedy and then to something entirely different, may confuse or even annoy audiences expecting a run-of-the-mill creature feature.

But I admired its weirdness and ambition. I even liked its willingness to explore the kinky side of its subject-matter. Most sci-fi nowadays is obsessed with violence. Itís a change to see one in which the sexual impulse is given fair play. It makes sense that Dren, who is maturing at an inhumanly fast rate, would wish to reproduce before she dies, and wouldnít be fussy about how she does it.

Splice isnít just horror, or science fiction. It is a film about parenting, here portrayed in an ingeniously unfamiliar way, as just another form of genetic experimentation. The film is at its most subversive when it reveals the truth of just how damaged Elsa has been by her childhood, and Drenís forthright response to Elsaís botched attempts at mothering.

Every other movie about scientific experimentation has been about the hubris of playing God. This oneís about the equally demanding challenge of trying to be a Father and Mother.

The film benefits from two leading actors who arenít afraid to be unsympathetic. Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley behave foolishly and occasionally cruelly, but always convincingly. They are even impressive in the later scenes, when they are fighting for their lives while barely on speaking terms.

Canada-based director Vincenzo Natali, a serious talent worthy of bigger budgets, made two previous films which are worth checking out, even though they made little impact at the multiplexes: Cube (1998), inventive sci-fi with a nightmarish sense of claustrophobia, and Cypher (2002), a stylish noir thriller featuring a superb, underrated performance by Jeremy Northam.

Itís easy to detect in Splice the constructive influence of Nataliís executive producer, Guillermo del Toro. Thereís a freaky sensuality of the kind that made Panís Labyrinth memorable. As with Del Toroís Hellboy pictures, the special effects are spectacular for a movie without a blockbuster budget.

Splice is not only Nataliís most promising film yet; it ranks among the most unusual and innovative films of the year.

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