Saturday, June 5, 2010
Splice begins with Clive (Adrien Brody) and Elsa (Sarah Polley) successfully commingling the DNA of several different animals. The result is a creature with proteins that have the potential to cure a good number of today's most widespread diseases. When they are denied permission by their employers to begin splicing these animals' DNA with the DNA of humans - with the hopes of finding a cure for cancer - a conflict is created. Their bosses are interested in making money and keeping a sound moral image; Clive and Elsa want to advance the fields of science and medicine.
Elsa, a steadfast and ambitious woman, convinces Clive to secretly join her in exploring the possibilities of splicing human DNA. Together they create a life form called Dren, which is nerd spelled backwards. In its earliest stages, Dren is uncomfortable and agitated; she is played here by Abigail Chu. Once she settles down, she becomes strangely adorable, and Elsa takes to her like a mother would an adopted daughter. It is a mix of love and curiosity.
One of Dren's genetic characteristics causes her to age exponentially; "days within a matter of minutes," Elsa explains. Before we know it, she has the face of a fully-grown woman. She is played provocatively in her later stages by Delphine Chaneac. Most of the character is unattractive, but her face is not. The actress has an enchanting pair of eyes. When you notice the change in Dren's appearance during the film's climactic scene, you will appreciate how pleasant Chaneac's appearance is.
Vincenzo Natali, the writer-director (Doug Taylor and Antoinette Terry Bryant also had a hand in the script), owes a great deal of debt to his special effects team. This is a film which creates a creature unlike anything we've seen before and, like District 9, it does so with a modest budget (somewhere around $30 million). Dren is a visually fascinating conception. There are many scenes devoted to getting acquainted with her physical characteristics. If she were less enthralling, these scenes wouldn't work as well as they do.
Perhaps the best quality of Splice is its unpredictability. Since nothing like Dren has ever been made before, we are constantly in the dark regarding what she might do next. Most of the scenes in which she is in her older form carry a great deal of suspense with them simply because we don't know how she will react in different situations. Like many humans, she has an impulsive quality to her.
Brody and Polley give performances that are rarely seen in this genre. The dynamic of their relationship is treated with as much seriousness and attention as Dren's development. The way this relationship evolves throughout the film will shock many viewers, maybe even cause them to dismiss the film entirely. But, like Dren, it is something we haven't seen before, and the filmmakers deserve credit for that.
Similar to Ridley Scott's Alien, Splice is a film that blurs the lines between science-fiction and horror. We look at Dren with a mixture of wonder and fear. We want to learn more about her, but at the same time, we are scared of what we might discover. But the script also contains a potent element of human drama; again, this is something the genre usually isn't involved with.
The film does have a few issues. The treatment of the Gavin (Brandon McGibbon) character, who is Clive's brother, is not treated with enough concern to truly matter. He is not often seen, but when he is, I couldn't help but question the point. While the purpose behind the corporate bosses (David Hewlett and Amanda Brugel) is more clear, their appearances are few and far between, and they often feel - to borrow a word from Dren - "tedious" when they break up what is happening with the couple's private experiment.
But this is a bold effort from Natali, and that deserves to be taken into consideration when one is examining the plot's somewhat outlandish development. What some may initially think is stupid and outrageous is actually quite the opposite; it is brave and fearless. The way it plays with our expectations is admirable. Few films this summer will provoke such divided and heated response.