Saturday, June 12, 2010

Review: Splice

Splice (2009, Vicenzo Natali)


I like the movies that deliberately attempt to do things differently. There are times when the filmmakers attempts at bringing edgy and unexpected to the fold comes back to bite in the backside. There are other tries that produce exquisite results, films that one could never soon forget. Then there are the attempts that leave the viewer thinking, and thinking, and thinking...Was the movie honestly that good, or am I under some sort of spell concocted by a few genuinely intelligent and edgy facets of a movie that overall probably won't make much of a dent in film history? This sort of film is the most interesting to write about because we know we saw something special, but at the same time were are still wrestling with what we have witnessed. Will the second viewing hold up or will what I thought I saw crumble under my newly found expectations?

In Vicenzo Natali's Splice, two young scientist lovers named Elsa (Sarah Polly) and Clive (Adrien Brody) take their research in the field of splicing (forging together DNA from different species) and venture well beyond legal and moral limits when they give birth to a brand new creature containing human DNA. This new and unique being, a female which they eventually name Dren, physically grows at a remarkable rate and demonstrates some fascinating and even potentially dangerous qualities, most notably a predator-like agility and a tale with a sting containing a lethal toxin. Working under no auspices other than what their minds and hearts tell what to do, Elsa proclaims early on that the purpose of their breakthrough is strictly for scientific purposes. She is very quickly stricken by a deep attachment to the creation, which at first worries Clive a great deal. Having no naturally born children of their own, Dren becomes something of a baby, a progeny for Elsa. As this surprising creature continues to grow and develop to the point where a certain form of sophisticated communication can be established between the parties, things naturally become increasingly complicated for the protagonists, who, while trying to avoid plummeting their company into turmoil with this thing the world would not immediately understand, also wish to see it grow and form some serious bonds with their experiment.

There are a number of things Splice has going for it. For starters, it is far more sophisticated and deliberately thought out than its strangely constructed trailer proclaims. The advertisements would have one believe they are to witness a serviceable but terribly familiar creature feature, with Dren running amok and eating her way through those unfortunate souls who so choose to cage her from freedom. I’m more than happy if that sort of trailer people to purchase tickets to see the movie. Whether or not they end up pleasantly surprised by the true nature of the movie is another matter altogether, but at least people will end up seeing the film and therefore I can remain hopeful that at least some minds and hearts will come to appreciate just what it is that director Natali has conjured up. The story moves at a far slower pace than I had anticipated, but the reason for this can be found in the nature of the tale itself. This is an emotional and psychological character study, a story about upbringing, about love for one's children and most of all about tampering with things us humans are not fit to entirely understand and control despite out best efforts (resulting in some of our clumsiest efforts when one looks back in hindsight).

The close bond that holds Elsa and Dren together a motherly one, with Elsa playing the maternal role in the hopes that she can make something of a human being out of Dren. What makes the entire situation confusing is that many of Elsa’s and Clive’s attempts at teaching are in actuality limited by the confines of the environments in which Dren is subject to. She is their child in some ways, while in others she is still very much a pet. It is revealed at one point that Dren’s life cycle is functioning at an accelerated rate, one in which a minute is like a day for her. All the love in the world won’t change the fact that she is an experiment, a creature that will not, or at least, should not see the general public’s face. Yet Elsa and eventually even Clive have been clouded by their attachment to Dren. Science has been substituted with love of a certain kind, which naturally places the two central characters in a morally ambiguous posture. There is the issue of Dren’s true nature which complicates matters more so. Director Natali teases the viewer with hints that perhaps Dren is in fact more human than beast. There is undoubtedly a strong connection linking her to her two foster parents, a connection that one would be forgiven for likening to that which holds biological parent-children bonds sealed tight. However, on several occasions Dren’s other side rears its ugly head, be it via her physical characteristics or her proclivity towards instinctively bestial reactions to the world around her, small as her world may be. This perfect dichotomy forces the individual audience members to question how they might react towards the miracle that is Dren. Foster child? Pet? Dangerous and regrettable mistake? What exactly is Dren? Even then, due to her varying behavioural shifts, the answer never really becomes clear. Therein lies much of Splice’s quality: its ability to make the viewer work a bit while watching this bizarre sci-fi tale unfold.

Vicenzo Natali explores the ambiguous depths of Dren’s personality and nature even further as the story develops. As the baby morphs into a child and subsequently into young adulthood, she experiences her sexual awakening, which places both Elsa and Clive in an embarrassing position. It is at this point that the director turns the screws even tighter than in the preceding build up. With the viewer’s conclusion on Dren’s true nature still in doubt (which is logical since the filmmakers preserve her intentionally ambiguous true self), the final third takes the triad into territories that, while on a surface level might come across as gratuitous, are in fact a fitting extensions of everything that has already transpired. Certain anecdotal hints which were dropped earlier in the movie begin to have significant impact on what Dren does and becomes during the final third, a segment that fulfilled my expectations for the most part.

Splice takes a vastly different route than most monster movies. I would strongly encourage people, especially sci-fi and horror fans, to take a mere 1h40 of their time and discover this summer’s surprise film. The performances, makeup, tone and pacing are all of high calibre and Natali’s story is rich in emotional and psychological texture, elements that are often amiss in today’s sea of horror slugfests.


Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

This is really turning into an interesting one, so many hate it some are different and you seem to love it.

edgarchaput said...

Yes, the reception this movie has received has varied greatly. I don't watch this kinds of movies often but I do enjoy them because they choose to push certain limits. The events of 'Splice' are reminiscent of Cronenberg's early work and I am a huge fan of that as well.

Anonymous said...

I guess we're in agreement about this film. It was the ambiguity of Dren and the scientific issues that were brought up which made me really enjoy this film and it sounds like that's what you gravitated towards as well.