Review: Splice

Film review
Directed by Vincenzo Natali
Starring Adrien Brody, Sarah Polley, Delphine Chanéac, David Hewlett

Genetic engineers Clive (Brody) and Elsa (Polley) are involved in splicing together human and animal genes in an attempt to cure terminal diseases. When their funding is cut during the project’s early stages, the couple continue their work in secret. The result is Dren (Chanéac) – a female with chicken legs and other animal attributes…

“What’s the worst that could happen?” Oh dear. The Horror Movie Rulebook decrees that whenever a character utters this line, something very, very bad will happen. And over the course of Splice, the line is repeated three times…

The worst that could happen, it turns out, is Adrien Brody having sex with a chicken-fish-lizard girl. For this is a film that cleverly subverts normal genre rules. Cube director Vincenzo Natali wears his influences on his sleeve – Clive and Elsa are named after the lead actors in Bride of Frankenstein and there are a couple of direct visual homages to Alien – but he reworks familiar elements into a thoughtful, surprising and often downright odd SF shocker that explores current ethical concerns over genetic research.

As with many a classic monster movie, the key to Splice’s success is possessing a creature that’s both deadly and sympathetic. Dren is one of the most peculiar monsters in a long time (as she gets older, her unusual abilities increase), but Delphine Chanéac manages to make this unlikely creation a compelling mix of pet, prisoner and substitute child, helped by Framestore’s decent CGI job. Brody and Polley, meanwhile, convincingly chart Clive and Elsa’s journey from ordinary work-obsessed couple to half-crazed scientists who prove capable of virtually anything as their grasp on morality becomes increasingly foggy.

As with Natali’s previous pictures, Cube and Cypher, the visuals are strange, sterile and stylish – this is yet another world in which there is little warmth. The sense of strangeness is heightened by a tense, slow-burning atmosphere: events threaten to explode into all-out mayhem at any moment, and yet they don’t. Well, not until the final 20 minutes at any rate, at which point the story descends into the well-executed but conventional monster-slasher movie that Natali has so far resisted. Matt McAllister

If you can overlook a few gaps in logic, some thinly-sketched supporting characters and a conventional finale, Splice is an interesting, unusual and at times likeably ridiculous genre picture.


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