Film >What should never be
Clive and Elsa (Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley) are the closest things to rock stars that the world of biogenetics has to offer. They boast patches on their lab coats, grace the latest cover of Wired and splice together whichever animal genes they damn well please – ethical considerations and corporate interests be damned.
The result of their most secret DNA concoction is Dren, a rapidly maturing creature that Elsa takes a shine to while Clive tries to cover their asses from spying eyes. Likewise, the outcome of Vincenzo Natali’s genre blend, Splice, is an uncompromised, surely unhinged amalgamation of countless experiment-gone-awry tropes.
It’s nice to see Natali work with a more substantial budget after the cult success of booby-trapped B-movie Cube and existential comedy Nothing. Under the guidance of executive producer Guillermo del Toro, the director lets loose with his best David Cronenberg impression, sustaining a constant mood of unease with chilly lighting and locations, ominous music and the consistently impressive reveals of Dren’s evolution (achieved with the impeccable incorporation of makeup, digital work, sound effects and – most importantly – Delphine Chanéac’s eerily unnatural performance).
Brody and Polley establish early on the feasible arrogance and naïveté of their hipster scientist couple, and it’s curious to see their relationship bow to this sudden onset of parental responsibilities – a little less Species or Cronenberg’s The Fly, and a little more Revolutionary Road, if you will. Cronenberg’s characters, though, tend to be sympathetic for all of their flaws. Clive and Elsa may start out with the intent to cure countless diseases and, yes, make headlines, but when their instabilities come to light, it seems like it would’ve only been a matter of time until their marriage fell apart anyway.
The unique catalyst for this collapse is Dren, which would be fine, and ideally nasty, if Natali didn’t stray from revealing what fresh hell Dren will bring upon them and instead moved toward what wrong-headed decisions these two can bring upon themselves. What started out as a cautionary tale of the “be careful what you wish for” variety takes a turn for more perverse territory, and like his leads, Natali and his co-writers opt to push certain boundaries just to see what they can get away with. While Brody and Polley are both serious actors asked to keep straight faces during some seriously silly scenes, they’re unable to prevent the self-destructive tendencies of their characters from taking on increasingly laughable forms.
Throw in a one-note corporate stooge and a but-of-course coda, and you’re left with a moderately nifty creature feature that’s warped for warping’s sake, filled with characters not likeable enough to make their ultimate fate a tragedy, nor loathsome enough to be darkly funny. Splice, however, deserves this much credit: it may be more twisted than tense, but at least it’s never boring.