Since it first started screening at genre festivals a while back, “Splice” has been garnering rabid word of mouth and a reputation for being one of the hottest science fiction/horror tickets for some time. Having gone down particularly well at prestigious gatherings such as Sundance and Stiges, the film has now been picked up for wider distribution, with a summer release slot having apparently been staked out, surely a great show of confidence in its quality.
The film was directed by Vincenzo Natali, still probably best known for his 1997 brain teaser “Cube”, and boasts a vaguely top drawer cast headlined by Adrien Brody, presumably still trying to live down his bizarre performance in Argento’s “Giallo”, and Sarah Polley. Add to this a potentially fascinating and controversial premise involving DNA tomfoolery and some superb special effects, and “Splice” certainly seems to tick all the right boxes. Sadly, it also ticks all the wrong boxes, and despite a few flashes of creativity, it sees Natali quite inexplicably playing things safe, following every genre cliché imaginable and eliciting laughter where it seems to be aiming for wonder or fear.
The plot sees Brody and Polley as a couple of hip young scientists working away on gene splicing. The audience is clued in to the fact that they are cooler than the average lab coat wearer by the fact that they have appeared on the front of a magazine and that they listen to groovy old time music. The two rebellious nerds decide to go against the wishes of their tedious corporate employers by mixing human DNA with that of a variety of animals, resulting in a weird, deformed infant creature they dub Dren. After the beastie rather unsurprisingly grows and develops intellectually at a rapid rate, they take the obvious route, and decide to take her home to their farmhouse, where the keep her in a dirty old barn. As Dren grows into a strange looking young woman (now played by actress Delphine Chanéac), her bonds with Brody and Polley begin to shift, pushing them into increasingly uncomfortable, and even dangerous situations.
In fairness, it should be stated at this point that the following comments contain a certain level of spoilers. However, the chances are pretty high that any genre fans reading the above synopsis will have a very accurate idea of where “Splice” is going regardless – especially those who have seen “Species” and its myriad sequels, or even “Jurassic Park”, from which it lifts a couple of groan-worthy riffs. Indeed, the main problem with the film is that it is inherently predictable from almost the first frame, dropping in laughably clumsy hints as to how the characters, human and otherwise are going to develop. Brody and Polley are sexually distant? Polley has mother issues? Dren starts drawing pictures of Brody and flitting her eyelashes at him? Check, check and check. Pretty much every one of the later supposed plot twists are spelled out well in advance, and as a result the film frequently feels redundant, especially in its latter, surprise free stages.
If anything, the film resembles a soap opera more than anything else, with the behaviour of the supposedly super intelligent scientist couple verging on the absurd on countless occasions. The film is not so much one which relies on a few wrong decisions here and there to help the plot along, so much as it requires a complete suspension of disbelief as to how people would act in such a situation. To be fair, this does make for some very amusing scenes, with Brody in particular having to act his way gamely through some deliciously ludicrous sequences. The script is embarrassingly straight-faced, and the supporting cast themselves are little more than painfully transparent stereotypes – corporate cynic, pointless brother with ‘potential victim’ stamped on his forehead, and so on.
Whilst the special effects are of a good standard throughout, and Natali wisely never over uses them, they are never inherently believable, mainly since Dren herself is a patently foolish beast. Far more interesting are a couple of non-humanoid creations which show up early on, though once they have established their point in the plot (underlining a lesson which Brody and Polley predictably fail to pay attention to), they are simply forgotten. These few scenes aside, the film is certainly likely to appal science fiction fans and horror fans alike, as it never explores the concept in any depth, pointedly ignoring its more complex possibilities, and is utterly devoid of scare scenes or shocks until the lame wrap up. At the same time, it determinedly eschews any kind of psychological or moral depth, showing a light hearted touch that may or may not have been intentional, but which certainly serves to undermine any big themes or questions hinted at.
All of this may sound somewhat harsh, but for a film which promises so much, “Splice” really does fail to deliver. Disappointingly standard in terms of plotting, clichéd and needlessly mild mannered, it is likely only to please the most undemanding of genre fans, or for those who really desperate or lonely enough to be caught up by the central question – which revolves not around whether or not it is morally correct to screw around with human and animal DNA, but whether or not it is ok to have sex with the results. And then whether or not to feel bad afterwards.
(This review was originally published on SciFiCool.com)
Vincenzo Natali (director) / Vincenzo Natali, Antoinette Terry Bryant, Doug Taylor (screenplay)
CAST: Adrien Brody … Clive
Sarah Polley … Elsa
David Hewlett … Barlow
Abigail Chu … Young Dren
Delphine Chanéac … Dren
Stephanie Baird … Elsa / PD
Brandon McGibbon … Gavin
Amanda Brugel … Melinda Finch