by NIR SHALEV
Let me get this off my chest: Canadian cinema does not suck. It simply asks moviegoers to wait for a while between one great movie and the next. The last great Canadian film I’d watched is called Pontypool (2008) and I had to wait another couple of years in order to see another great Canadian film. Well, it’s finally arrived and it’s called Splice.
Writer/director Vincenzo Natali helmed the writer/director’s chair in the late nineties with a cult classic called Cube (1997). It featured claustrophobia, deadly traps, neat special effects, and plenty of intelligent writing to spare. Splice is his new intelligent thriller that swaps horror cliches for terrific performances, phenomenal CGI and special effects, and an age-old tale of morality that here is entirely fresh and doesn’t feel overused.
Clive (Adrien Brody) and Elsa (Sarah Polley) are scientists who dabble in gene splicing. They’d been developing a couple of creatures from which to extract a type of protein. The protein is necessary around the globe, and their company’s shareholders are growing antsy for results. They receive news that their lab will soon be shut down and are told that they will no longer be splicing DNA, but working directly with the protein extraction. They feel that their work is hugely unfinished and decide to secretly try to splice together a creature using human DNA. When Elsa reminds Clive that cloning human beings is illegal he retorts with, “don’t worry, it won’t be human.”
They aren’t far from the truth when a match is formed out of random species’ genetic strings and a creature is formed. The fetus to their surprise, grows at an unexpectedly rapid rate; days instead of months. It is soon formed into a tiny, adorable creature (with a phallic-shaped head that’s suitable for this genre of film) that lacks arms and has big and beady, but beautiful eyes. Together, Clive and Elsa secretly grow the creature in the basement of their facility and name it Dren (nerd backwards). She is clothed in a dress and is almost treated as their child. Clive and Elsa try to teach it to communicate but even though it understands every word spoken it never communicates in any type of language.
The characters of Clive and Elsa are the heart and soul of the film. The actors’ performances are fantastic. They portray their characters with great realism and conviction and always remind us that this is not a horror film per se, but a psychological thriller; although it dabbles greatly in the fantastic it exists in the real world. Model/actress Delphine Chanéac plays Dren like a child, sometime smiling and sometimes showing angst; she hates her mother and loves her father and we sometimes feel a bit of a Freudian aspect and hints of an incestuous relationship, again the screenplay nudging at drama over horror.
One aspect that I like a lot about the movie is that the special effects and CGI are phenomenal; they’re absolutely astonishing. Dren has grasshopper-like legs and is almost as tall as Adrien Brody, and also her eyes are further apart than normal, but the creature design has a photo-realistic quality to its texture and moves properly according to physics. Another aspect that I like about the film is that about half way through it we witness a role reversal between Clive and Elsa; he grows to love Dren and Elsa hates her guts, even threatening to cut off her dangerous tail. And the aspect I like and respect the most is that this is basically an early Cronenberg film except that the special effects, performances, and premise are fantastic.
The film also asks difficult moral questions. First, should we clone anything that splices human DNA into it? Second, how far will you let your experiments go? And the third question is, how old will you let Dren grow and what are you really trying to gain from her? This is a dark drama that features several moral dilemmas within the sci-fi genre and asks us what we would do if we were put in Clive and Elsa’s shoes. If we were Clive and we felt a sexual closeness to Dren, what would we do? When Elsa finds pictures that Dren drew of her father but not her mother what would we do if we were in her place?
I like this film a lot and especially because of how much it had managed to disturb me. It is original because even though it borrows aspects from other films and philosophies, it makes them its own. I commend this brave topic and its disturbing delivery and recommend it to adults only. Even some adults might be repulsed by what happens in the third act so consider this fair warning.
3 1/2 stars
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For more serious and seriously disturbing psychological horror: Ravenous.