By Don Simpson | June 4, 2010
Director: Vincenzo Natali
Writers: Vincenzo Natali, Doug Taylor, Antoinette Terry Bryant
Starring: Adrien Brody, Sarah Polley, Delphine Chanéac
Clive Nicoli (Adrien Brody) and Elsa Kast (Sarah Polley) are rock star scientists with serious god complexes who splice and dice the DNA of various animal species to genetically engineer unique hybrid beings. Their first major success story — earning them the front cover of Wired — occurs with the creation of two non-descript slimy blobs named Ginger and Fred. The sugar daddy for Clive and Elsa’s Dr. Frankenstein experiments is Newstead Pharmaceuticals. The towering black skyscrapers (one of countless references to David Cronenberg’s oeuvre) lend the pharma corporation a menacing and mysterious aura — though they purport to be solely interested in saving humankind from disease, we know that they are only in it for the money.
The logical next evolutionary step in Clive and Elsa’s research is to toss some human DNA into the mix, but even Newstead hesitates to cross that moral/ethical/legal line. Now operating out of their very own N.E.R.D. (Nucleic Exchange Research and Development) labs, Clive and Elsa, still buzzing from the high of creating Ginger and Fred, just can’t stop themselves from conducting stealth experiments with human DNA during the off hours of their day job (extracting potentially beneficial enzymes, proteins and the like from Ginger and Fred for Newstead). Eventually, Clive and Elsa spawn a strange being with some human characteristics. The creature, named Dren (Abigail Chu / Delphine Chanéac), ages and matures quite rapidly and it is not long before Dren becomes an unmanageable child-figure for Clive and Elsa (they seem to make better gods than parents). Dren displays new and unexpected physical and mental developments on a daily basis, unraveling the genetic map inherited from her Petri dish of parents. An interesting treatise on what it means to become a female human, including the necessities of dresses, make-up, and Barbie dolls, Dren evolves quite literally into a fully matured seductress.
Vincenzo Natali (Cube) directed and co-wrote this cerebrally entrancing and disturbing mind-fuck of a film. Splice is prime fodder for engrossing moral and ethical debates on topics (some more taboo than others) such as: genetic inheritance, cloning, incest, bestiality, abortion, and parenthood (specifically control and punishment of children). Natali is much more interested in blowing the filmgoer’s mind than scaring them; there is more science fiction ancestry inherent in Splice than horror (the trailer seems to suggest otherwise). Flagrantly flashing his cinematic calling-cards (just as Clive sports t-shirts signifying genetic fingerprints and evolution), Natali splices the genes of Ridley Scott’s Alien with those of several David Cronenberg films all-the-while utilizing the story of Frankenstein as a narrative guide. Sure, parts of the story are highly derivative, but the resulting creation as a whole is fairly original; and lusciously lensed by one of my favorite cinematographers of late, Tetsuo Nagata (Micmacs, La vie en rose), Splice is a modestly produced marvel to behold.
Natali really pushes the limits of what filmgoers might be willing to watch (especially when it comes to incest and bestiality) and I have no doubt that some scenes will be way too much for unsuspecting viewers. There are several moments when it is unclear whether Natali expects us to be shocked or humored by the onscreen events; nonetheless, I found these scenes to be too chock full of meaning and significance to merely write them off as gratuitous. Besides, Splice more than likely represents our future (heck, there are probably some rogue scientists or maniacal pharma corporations already turning these fictions into fact) so we better start preparing ourselves now before an army of Drens inherits the earth.