Movie Review: Splice

Yeah … this film is already on video.  As happens, when a film comes out during the school year, I tend to not see it unless I have some down time.  This was not one of those years.  It had been on my radar, I missed it, and it is now on cable, so I was able to get back and see it.  If you haven’t seen it, and want to see it, move on.  Spoilers will follow.  Please note:  if you are under the age of 27, you aren’t old enough to see this film.

 

I had really wanted to see Splice because its director, Vincenzo Natali, had also written and directed a phenomenal independent film I saw years ago called Cube, quite possibly the only mathematical horror film ever written (seriously, it helps to understand something about math to fully understand this film).  Apparently, Natali had wanted to do Splice immediately, but lacked the funds for many years.

Clive and Elsa (Adien Brody and Sarah Polly) are genetic engineers, romantically coupled, working on the edge of the field:  they create new organisms to produce particular proteins for medical research.  This isn’t anything wholly new, we do this with bacteria and such now, but Clive and Elsa create actual large organisms.  Their newest creation are some giant slug-like creatures (Fred and Ginger) whom they hope will mate and propagate a species that will create the proteins their company (Nucleic Exchange Research and Development … no seriously, that’s the company!)  The company is excited by this, and everyone is happy, except for Elsa.  Elsa realizes that this is hard often frustrating work to find combinations of genes that will create viable organisms that produce human proteins … something that will be made immensely easier if they could use like …. human DNA.  Her bosses put the kabosh on that … using human DNA would create such a huge backlash that the company would never sell anything.

In classic mad scientist tradition, Elsa and Clive say “screw it”, and go about creating a new life form based on some human DNA (anonymous female donor, Elsa tells Clive).  After frustration, it works.  Clive and Elsa originally just want to grow it until they can start extracting proteins, but Elsa subtlely allows the creature to grow to term.  What comes out of their giant test tube is some thing that looks vaguely human with a cross of other animals.  Clive tries to kill it, but Elsa gets very maternal.  The creature lives.

Clive and Elsa hide the specimen in the basement away from prying eyes, though Clive’s brother finds out, and is nearly killed …. it appears that the specimen has a stinger at the end of its tail that can inject a toxin.  With the company getting ready to ramp up their project to the next level, they decide to move their specimen to their home.

The specimen matures, and starts taking on human female characteristics.  She can’t talk, but begins to spell things out with scrabble pieces … mimicking the “N.E.R.D.” on Elsa’s shirt, which leads her to give the specimen the name “Dren”  Dren starts growing older and growing curious.  She doesn’t care for Clive (who occasionally brings up the “let’s terminate the experiment” idea, while she grows closer to Elsa in a mother-daughter relationship.  One night after a lot of late nights at the lab, Clive and Elsa start getting intimate in the living room, with all of the mixed signals (pleasure, but the appearance of an assault) that this action has, while Dren secretly watches.

After Dren nearly escapes their apartment, they decide to move her out to Elsa’s mom’s old farm.  Upon arrival, Dren breaks away, and they catch up to her learning that she has learned to hunt very effectively.  Dren spends her time in the barn, learning about Elsa’s past, and becoming bored (something she tells the pair with scrabble letters).  We learn that Elsa’s mom died some time ago, and that Elsa had been abused as a child by her strict mother.

Meanwhile, the company’s big day arrives as Clive and Elsa show off Fred and Ginger to the shareholders.   Unfortunately, when Fred and Ginger are released into the same tank, they begin circling each other, produce stingers, and proceed to kill each other in the bloodiest way possible, ending with the tank bursting open and the shareholders drenched in blood.  The company is furious … Clive and Elsa never realized that Ginger had become male, and that instead of being cuddly loving slugs, they became highly competitive slugs bent on killing each other.  Clive and Elsa are told to get the protein isolated through whatever legal means are necessary.

Dren has matured, and is starting to fall in love with Clive.  Clive begins to figure this out, and so does Elsa when Dren stops listening to her …. stinging a cat out of spite when Elsa tries to discipline her.  Elsa knocks Dren out, and surgically removes her stinger and venom gland.  It turns out that venom gland had the protein that Elsa and Clive were looking for, and she turns it over to the company.

When Clive arrives, Dren throws herself at Clive, and the two mate, only to be disturbed by a pissed off Elsa (we learn that Dren’s stinger has grown back).  It is now that Clive confronts Elsa with the truth:  there never was an anonymous donor:  Elsa had been the donor used to create Dren.  The pair being to realize that Dren is becoming too uncontrollable, and that the time has come for termination.  They return to find Dren near death, and bury her, just as their boss arrives with Clive’s brother.  The company detected human genes in the protein sample, in strict contravention of their demands.  Dren suddenly bursts through the dirt, and proceeds to kill Clive’s brother and the boss.  Clive and Elsa run through the woods being hunted by Dren.  Elsa is eventually caught, and raped by Dren’s tail.  Clive arrives and kills Dren, but not before Dren stings him to death.

The film ends back at the company offices.  Elsa is given a check to compensate her, and the company is grateful that, with Elsa’s cooperation, the experiments will proceed.  Elsa stands, and we learn she is pregnant with Dren’s child.

 

This is not the greatest sci-fi film I have ever seen, but let me start off by saying it is one of the creepiest films I have seen in a long time.  It is an unsettling film with a dark mood throughout.  Dren’s makeup and actions are truly one of an animal with some human maturity issues.  She is well performed.

The main problems are inconsistencies in the writing.  At one point, Clive talks about having children, and Elsa seems reluctant (because of her abusive childhood, it is implied), but she is the one who essentially wants to have Dren the whole time (Clive wants the thing dead throughout most of Dren’s early life).  There are strong implications in the film that the child abuse cycle is genetic and not caused by someone’s environment, which is something I find a little dubious.

Further:  it is one thing to try and create something scientifically, but I find it difficult to believe in the way this pair is portrayed that the moment they realized they had created what was essentially a bipedal, immature lethal sea snake, that the first thoughts were not going to be “let’s take her home” or “let’s take her to the farm” …. especially after she demonstrates that she is clearly predatory (Elsa confirms that no predatory genes were used to create her …. oh … except for human genes, because humans NEVER act in a predatory way!).  So rather than looking at Dren’s blood stained face while she proceeds to down the little critter she caught and stung, they just decide to use the Jurassic Park defense (we never put that into the genes … how were we to know that a highly complex, relatively new technology wouldn’t work out the way we expected it to).

There is also the interpretation of this film that it is about parents and kids.  In this case, rather ignorant parents (which I guess all new parents are to some extent) making classic mistakes with their child.

I expect bad logic from directors who have a history of being able to ignore logic, but I expected a bit more out of Natali.  If you are looking for a creepy cautionary tale, you could do much worse than Splice.

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