I watch a lot of movies, and I watch a lot of movie trailers. Call me crazy (“You’re crazy!”) but it’s a lot of fun to me to see how people, studios, or whoever decide to encapsulate the essence of their 90 minute movie into a couple of fleeting moments. There’s nothing I dislike more than a misleading trailer. Your trailer can be bad, but so long as the movie itself is a piece of crap, I’m fine with that. If you stick a bad trailer with a good movie, or a boring trailer with a fun movie (ahem, Jennifer’s Body, paging Jennifer’s Body), I just get irritated.
Splice, in every trailer I’ve ever seen for it, is being sold like a classic science-gone-wrong monster movie, in which Dren (played as a child by Abigail Chu and as a teen/adult by Delphine Chaneac) basically goes off the rails and starts doing evil things with her stinger tail and general creepy appearance.
Of course, given that I brought up the nature of trailers, the movie isn’t that. Splice is more like a 1950’s sci-fi movie with a bit more edge and better monster effects or, perhaps a family drama, only one of the family members is a monster made up of weirdly recombining DNA that randomly mutates and causes the youngest family member to randomly grow wings and age at a shockingly fast rate.
Clive Nicoli (Adrien Brody) and Elsa Kast (Sarah Polley) are two biochemists working on the cutting edge of gene-splicing technology. We’re talking stuff that seems like science fiction. They’re creating completely artificial organism out of completely spliced-together DNA in the hopes of building a gross slug-penis monster that can be used to create proteins used for medicine. (Of course, about two weeks ago, a guy named Dr. Craig Venter did just that when he created a self-replicating microorganism out of recombinant DNA, making the movie’s release incredibly timely.
The end result of their experiments, which dance with the forbidden by using a little segment of human DNA, is Dren. Congratulations, it’s a girl!
Splice is buoyed by having an excellent cast. Sarah Polley, who got her big break in Dawn Of The Dead, returns to the monster genre as the boundaries-pushing ‘science is its own reward’-type Elsa, while Oscar-winner Adrien Brody can always be counted on to give a good performance, and is very good here as the more reasonable member of the duo of postmodern Doctors Frankenstein.
Brody in particular gets some good dialog, as he’s the quirky one of the duo and gets all the jokes, while Polley gets to be the more emotive, serious one. It’s a good balance that plays to the strengths of the two actors. Since they get all the screen time, they have to be able to hold the audience’s attention, and they do that very well.
The script of the film, from director Vincenzo Natali, Antoinette Terry Bryant, and Doug Taylor, finds the right balance between the dramatic, the pseudo-scientific, the horror, and the comedy you need to make a movie like this work without falling into the trap of being too moralistic, stupid, or worse, boring. Even when the movie becomes a bit predictable towards the end, it never ceases to be entertaining, which is good. The ending is incredibly cliché, and some of the twists near the end were a bit obvious and expected, but that’s the case when you’re dealing with what is essentially a prettied-up, more intelligent B-movie with a good cast.
If you can say one thing for Natali’s directing talents, he knows how to shoot a laboratory to maximum effect. After all, he also did Cube. He does quite a good job with Dren’s various temporary homes, from the lab and beyond. He also keeps the movie focused and moving at a pace that feels quicker than its 104 minute runtime, yet slow enough so that the heightened pace of the movie’s finale leaves the viewer adequately breathless. There’s also enough slime and blood at key moments to make the movie sufficiently horrifying.
Of crucial importance to the movie is Dren. Considering that she’s the third presence on the screen, if she doesn’t look good, the movie doesn’t have a shot. However, the combination of CGI and practical effects used to bring her to life works, thanks to the top-notch work of Greg Nicotero and Howard Baker.
Dren as a child and Dren as a teen/adult are really incredible. She’s off-putting, but just odd enough to look like a monster, but not so odd as to be outlandish. She’s got human DNA, after all, and needs to look like a plausible humanoid hybrid.
Splice isn’t a brilliant movie by any stretch of the imagination, and the movie’s finale is flawed. However, the way the movie moves, and the way the actors handle the slow progression of their plan from ‘within our control’ to ‘oh my God, we’re totally up a creek here!’ is really well done.
Splice isn’t the second-coming of Species, but is more like Ginger Snaps, with the monster as a parable for the circle of life, and the problems of the parents of a precocious teenage monster.
They grow up so fast, don’t they?
US correspondent Ron Hogan will never stop marveling at the sheer immensity of Adrien Brody’s nose. That thing should get top billing in whatever movie he’s in. Find more by Ron at his blog, Subtle Bluntness, and daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.