I’m never quite sure how to review a movie like Splice. While I’m not sure how to review a movie like King’s Speech because it’s entertaining and good and little else, I’m not sure how to review Splice because it’s so thoroughly uncomfortable. My buddy Dan saw this movie in theaters when it came out before summer last year. He warned me that it was hysterically uncomfortable, and I believed him. I definitely believed him, but even I couldn’t fathom how terribly awkward this movie can get. Do you want to know where a plot that starts at genetic splicing can go? Cos it can go a lot of places, almost none of them rosy.
Clive (Adrien Brody) and Elsa (Sarah Polley) are a couple of Torontonian scientists–or at least, the same kind of vague Torontonian that has a barn out in the country during a frosted winter and exits their research facility via Jackson Square in downtown Hamilton. One of these days, someone will shoot in southern Ontario and not mash all the cities up into a fine paste of anonymity. Always told the story takes place in Chicago or New York–they never use the believable lie of Minnesota. They are working on genetic splicing techniques, creating mutant creatures that might contain the cures for all sorts of genetic illnesses, like cancer or Parkinson’s. Of course, they’re also trying to have a baby, but Elsa isn’t quite sure yet. Naturally, the next stage in their relationship is splicing human DNA into the mutants they’ve already made. Saw that coming, right?
The creature they’ve created is growing far too quickly and they predict it will die an early death barely out of the artificial womb. The weird amphibious chicken creature shows signs of cognition and association. When Elsa tries to teach it her name with Scrabble tiles–scientists and Scrabble, rite?–splicette spells out “nerd” and points at her. Clive angrily asks Elsa what to call the creature after Elsa chastises him for calling it “the subject”. She looks down, looks back at him and tells him to call her Dren (Delphine Chanéac). Don’t worry, Elsa. I too have accidentally given something an awful name. I accidentally named my pet cat Furball. The name sticks, then you just can’t take it back. Dren will soon be a teenager, and with adolescence comes some confusing hormonal changes. The mutant Dren was spliced with recently went from female to male without anyone noticing. Not that I mention that cos it’s important or anything.
Splice, to me at least, represents a lot of different things. It’s alright in and of itself, but there are little things throughout the feature that remind me so much of where science fiction is now instead of where it could and should be. My brother is a lot smarter than I am and is currently pursuing a doctorate in some very obscure field of physics. He also can’t dress himself worth a damn, so tell me why Clive and Elsa look like models for some GQ gen-x feature on punk rock science. Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley themselves were inspired choices to play these roles. Not typically beautiful in either case, but attractive in their own abilities as actors. They’re smart actors and capable, and not Megan Fox. So why are they dressed up like Sid and Nancy? I get that you’re trying to make them normal, Splice, but you went from normal to stylized. And that’s not the only place.
The entire movie got hit so hard by the orange-and-tealerizer that some scenes are entirely teal. Clive and Elsa stand and look at their mutant baby in a teal room, while through the window, orange people in an orange room congratulate them on their success. Using post-processing and image mastering like this is not effective for making a better movie. It just makes a louder movie. Like slamming all sound into a brick wall limiter when pressing a CD so it sounds artificially louder, but is actually far less involving. If La Gioconda were painted today, she’d be 100% orange. Dren herself is far too anthropomorphic for a creature that’s nominally less than 50% human. Though, my favourite television series made me believe in a half-human girl who was all human, except for her soft blue hair.
I’ve been asking myself since I saw this movie what it was trying to do. Vincenzo Natali is on record saying he likes to end his films with a question–something for the audience to ponder on their way home. I’m indeed asking a couple questions here, Vince, but I’m not sure if they’re the ones you meant for me to ponder. What was the point of Splice? Is science good and eventually going to save us from cancer? Or is science bad and eventually going to make us feel very weird in the pants? Is science merely a powerful tool in the arsenal of man? I’ve mentioned that my brother is a lot smarter than I am. When I told him I was about to watch this movie, he replied “Oh, you mean the one where the spliced creature is the manifestation of their fears regarding having and raising children?” That interpretation has stuck with me far longer than any hope that this was about science in some way.
I know this review sounds negative, but there are far too many things that Splice does right for me to blow it off as an entirely bad movie. It’s not a bad movie. But it isn’t a good one either. I suppose I can sum it up best thusly: in this film, there are three sex scenes. The creature is involved in all three, taking on a more active role as the film progresses. One of them ends well for both participants. One of them is interrupted before it can be finished. The last cannot be said to end well for anyone. I don’t know what Splice is or wants to be, but I think those statements can tell you whether or not you want to see this movie. It could be zero stars, it could be three and a half. Those are the bounds–you decide my rating. A BUHHHHHHHH?! but seriously, it’s TWO AND A HALF STARS