Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Splice (2010)

Image copyright Warner Bros. Pictures
Welcome to the world of Splice, one where human cloning is illegal, but geneticists can randomly blend the DNA of whatever they feel like just to see what the result looks like without any form of oversight appart from the profit-driven demands of the slightly shady pharmaceutical multinational that has invested in their lab.  As you might expect, this recipe for disaster soon leads to trouble, as Rock-star scientists Clive (Adrien Brody) and Elsa (Sarah Polley) chuck some human DNA into the mix and wait to see what happens.
On the surface, this appears to be a set up for a retelling of Mary Shelly's Frankenstein, updated to reflect modern fears about genetic engineering, and at first it seems that this might be where the film is heading, especially when the result of said genetic meddling is possessed of a particularly toxic sting in the tail, and a highly violent nature.
However, the film quickly adopts a more psychological tone, as the creature quickly grows into something that the New York Times film reviewer Manohla Dargis described as "...a creature that, with her tail, skinned-chicken legs and cleft head alternately looks as harmless as a bunny and like something that might leap out from Ridley Scott’s “Alien” (or, scarier yet, a David Lynch film). "  We watch the tension that looking after this dangerous secret places on the relationship between Clive and Elsa, the former still believing that it was a mistake to let the creature live, the latter treating it like a pet at first, then almost a child.  Her affection for the creature that she has named "Dren" is almost reminicent of the mothers in "the Midwich Cuckoos", and is equally as unsettling.
The action shifts from the lab to the old farm that Elsa grew up on, which provides the scriptwriter plenty of opportunities to hint at the traumatic past she endured, and the neuroses that this has bred.  At the same time, Dren has matured to an eerily beautiful adolescence, trapped in the old barn that has been adapted to serve as her home.  At the same time, the relationships between Elsa, Clive and Dren shift, revealing, as Time Out reviewer Nigel Floyd says, "the arrogant human scientists revealed as monsters, even as the ‘monstrous’ Dren reveals her complex, vulnerable humanity".  This is helped by the fact that Dren is restricted to a (non the less expressive) limited collection of chirps and clicks, or spelling out words using scrabble tiles when she wants to communicate.

Image copyright Warner Bros. Films
Unfortunately, after what seems like a complex and psychologically ambiguous denoument, the director seems to have randomly tacked on another 30 minutes from the script for a cliche'd monster horror film, with hectic chases through dark and foggy woods and random shocks.  A cynical person might even go so far as to say the entire purpose of this section is to set up a cash-in sequel, although it does manage to squeeze in one final psychological shock.  Even this, however, seems mainly based on making Dren back into the monster that the entire film had been spent showing her not to be; although it might also be a homage to David Chronenberg's "The Fly". 
Overall, I think that SFX film reviewer Dave Golder put it best when he said "The film spends three quarters of its running time desperately – and largely successfully – fighting against being the kind of film you expect it to be, before becoming exactly the kind of film you expect it to be…"

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