As Vincenzo Natali’s Splice arrives in the UK, Duncan finds a mainstream B-movie with shocks and laughs in almost equal measure…
I always tend to make a habit of writing up a film review within twenty-four hours of watching it, mostly to retain the freshness of my emotional reaction to it, good or bad. So, it’s a fine testament to Splice that exactly a week after seeing it, the film has still managed to leave a solid imprint on my mind.
The reason being because Splice is insane.
So insane, that every screening I’ve been to since has been populated by people talking about it, as it seems to be proving quite divisive amongst the other writers I’ve spoken to. Some seem to be drawn to the more Freudian elements, others to its themes of relationships and childbirth. And as for me? Well, I thought it was one of the greatest attempts at making a mainstream B-movie I’ve ever seen.
Director Vincenzo Natali is probably best known to us geeks as the director of inspired low budget hit Cube and the criminally overlooked Cypher. What fascinated me about Splice was that Natali clearly shows an intelligent awareness of how ludicrous the whole premise of the film is, yet still manages to inject genuine moments of terror and pathos in amongst some great visual comedy.
Rather than Species, I’d compare Splice to Hollow Man in terms of how the movie feels, without trying to be too descriptive and give anything away, as I’d avoided reading or watching anything to do with the film, and the pay off was immense.
Whether you liked Hollow Man or not, you should appreciate that it involved a fearsomely talented director, essentially, trying to make a studio movie with interesting results. Paul Verhoeven started the film with a visceral, gory punch, before taking the elements that interested him the most (never underestimate the man’s love of breasts, Verhoeven’s that is) and straining them through Hollywood’s cookie cutter to make his film conform to their monster movie conventions.
Splice treads a very similar path, as we follow the scientific journey that Clive Nicoli and Elsa Kast (played by Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley, respectively) take, as they pay no heed to the lesson learnt by Dr. Frankenstein in their quest to create new, genetically engineered life. The film is given an incredible strength from its premise, as the results of their work mean that any organism we’re shown in the film is entirely new and therefore, entirely unpredictable.
Many of the film’s shocks come from seeing what will develop next, and Natali holds an incredible feeling of unease and tension over the entire film, so much so that my usual note taking was kept to a bare minimum as I sat enthralled by it. I knew within the first five minutes that I was onboard with Splice, as it ably showed a great sense of comedy, mixed in with some suitably disgusting effects.
It came as no surprise to see Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger’s names in the opening credits, though I’m a little confused as to how they seem to be able to do the effects for about ninety percent of the films I watch. Since their Evil Dead days they really have become the kings of special effects, and their work is so good in Splice that they effectively sell the reality of the situation.
And by making Dren such a masterwork – a mix of the beautiful, innocent, deadly and ethereal – you don’t ever question what’s on screen.
At one point, my head started to spin at how realistic and aesthetically stunning some of their work is. If you don’t know what a Dren is, then I implore you not to go looking, especially not on IMDb, where I was mortified to see a spoiler of film-ruining potential. Quite how no one’s had it taken down is a mystery.
While the KNB EFX group go to work, it remains for the emotional and comedic core of Splice to be divided between Brody and Polley. It was an incredibly savvy move, as both actors are known for effortlessly dealing with dramatic content, so between them they easily ground and realise the more preposterous parts of the story.
What came as a surprise was how readily they dealt with the humour of the film, most notably in an early scene which hammered home the B-movie roots of Splice, as a moment of over-the-top slapstick plays out when Polley’s character finds herself trapped in a lab room with ‘something’.
Adrian Brody is a notable actor and much more on the geek radar after the likes of King Kong and, more recently, Predators, whereas Sarah Polley, despite Go and the Dawn Of The Dead remake, still seems to be a massively underappreciated and underused actress in Hollywood. Hopefully, the controversial nature of Splice will bring her more attention, as she’s more than deserving of it.
The film isn’t without its flaws, though. There is an unoriginal element of corporate greed, of the usual ‘give us results, or we’re shutting you down’ variety, which I always associate with the likes of Carter Burke, but which even Splice couldn’t bring any freshness to, despite the incredible presentation it leads to later on. In fact, the entire third act is relatively weaker, losing some of its momentum and tension, especially when compared to the first two.
The closer the film draws to its finale, the more conventional it seems to become, falling into predictability, not once, but twice, after striving so hard to be the opposite.
There is one moment near the end that is incredibly disturbing and still makes me feel uneasy. It’s just a shame it happened amongst the weaker parts. The moment I refer to, as well as other parts of the last act, when things become more intimate and hostile, will prove to be talking points for a long time to come, I imagine, and it’s very difficult to write my way around them, but I can assure you that the fresher you are to the film, the more impactful it will be.
I’ll wait to hear what others make of it. No doubt, many will hate it, but Natali has earned even more of my respect for making, quite possibly, the funniest, twisted, darkest, and most crazy mainstream B-movie of recent times.
Splice is on general release in the UK from 23rd July.
Our first Splice review is here.