Often a movie comes along that gets mixed reviews from my fellow horror bloggers - we all have varying opinions, even within the genre we love so much. But I'm here to tell you I loved Splice, regardless if each and every one of my cohorts disagrees. I'm not the biggest sci-fi fan, I generally take the straight horror fork in the road more often - but I am certainly down with good science fiction - after all, one of my favorite television shows was The X-Files.
Splice (if you've been living under a rock and don't know) is the story of two genetic engineers who are in the top of their field and on the cusp of huge success and fame with their recent hybrid race made from splicing the DNA of different animals together. It's thought that the new "species" can assist in vastly important medical discoveries and advancements.
However, our couple (and they are a 'couple' as well as work partners) persists in asking their pharmaceutical corporate sponsors for permission to try using human DNA in their experiments, believing this could be the breakthrough of the century. Naturally, due to ethical and moral reasons, the powers-that-be adamantly refuse.
This doesn't stop Elsa and Clive (great Frankenstein/Bride of Frankenstein homages by the way!) - they secretly blend the animal DNA with human, and after countless failures finally strike gold. They get the right combination and the splice takes hold.
Soon, their hybrid mix is growing beyond comprehension, and waaay too fast. They incubate it in a hush-hush manner, hiding away in the lab to work on an 'undisclosed' experiment. Soon Elsa and Clive are the proud parents of a... creature, for lack of a better word. It comes into the world many months early and fairly pissed off. But soon Elsa makes friends with the little sprout, who grows like a weed both physically and mentally.
Before long, the hybrid is putting Scrabble letters together, making words and astounding her 'parents' at her hyper intelligence. When she spells the word NERD after seeing it on a t-shirt, Elsa decides calling her by a lab number is no longer acceptable and she reverses the word, choosing to name the little one DREN.
At one point in their cloak-and-dagger venture, Dren develops a fever - an unknown illness that seems to drag her down to the point of death, until Clive - after placing her in a cold bath to drop her temp - realizes she needs to be under the water, like an amphibian. Only after Dren regains consciousness does Elsa figure out Clive was helping her, not drowning her. So it's decided she needs access to a body of water at all times, though she is certainly not limited to it.
Dren soon becomes a bit too much to hide in the basement of the lab anymore, so they move her to Elsa's family farmhouse, which has obviously been abandoned for many years. There is a mini side story about Elsa's mother in which we aren't given full disclosure but it is apparent that her mother had mental problems and probably didn't treat Elsa the best. Nevertheless, they stow Dren away in the large barn, taking turns watching her and keeping her occupied and her mind stimulated.
They lavish her with toys and gifts but continue to tell her she cannot go outside. Dren attempts to keep a barn cat, but Elsa forbids it, causing Dren obvious sadness and distress. By this time she is fully grown and appears to be a young woman, albeit a bit of a strange-looking one. Dren is quite bored, and when she escapes and runs up on the roof, Clive and Elsa follow her, imploring her to come back inside. It is only when Clive tells her they love her that she turns around and runs into his arms.
From that point, things get a little hairy. Folks at the lab (including Clive's brother Gavin) become suspicious about Elsa missing work and Clive's lack of enthusiasm on their (legit) project. Then a major accident involving said project brings the calamity of the situation to the forefront - and that, combined with Dren's increasingly unusual - bordering on violent - behavior - wreaks havoc on their happy little home.
Splice put me through a lot of different emotions when watching it. Nothing actually scared me, truth be told, but I think it only fair to give credit where credit is due. I loved wee Dren - she was like a puppy at the pet store you beg your mom to let you bring home. As she grew, my emotions stayed steady - I felt for the little bugger. She was an outcast - a reject of science - yet so darned cute all the same. Her own feelings seemed intact, with her desiring both a physical and emotional connection with her faux parents. She wanted love.
But in all experiments, things rarely go as planned. Clive warns Elsa going in that what they are doing is morally wrong, but neither can help themselves - and even as Clive comes to his senses after thinking about killing Dren on a few occasions early on, Elsa very nearly does a bit later in the film. Whether or not it was intentional, I won't say. I will mention that things get very ugly, very quickly. And any aspirations budding geneticists may have about DNA splicing may go right out the window after seeing this film.
The acting is very good, in particular by the two leads. Anyone who thinks Adrien Brody (Clive) cannot act has never seen The Pianist. He's great here, attempting to be the voice of reason against all the increasing madness. And what do I need to say about Sarah Polley (Elsa)? She's an actor (perhaps most famous to genre fans as Ana in the remake of Dawn of the Dead), screenwriter and director (Academy Award nominated at that, for Away From Her), singer, and political activist. But let's face it, she's just good at what she does, and is beyond credible in this role. Together, Polley and Brody exude both compassion and compunction about their dealings with Dren. On one hand, they want very much to see her grow to her full potential, even though they have NO idea what that potential might be. And at the same time, they are trying to be fair and appropriate parental figures for Dren. Certainly a conundrum in the truest sense of the word.
Well, you know what the 'Stones say: You can't always get what you want.
I believe the special effects were done quite well here. The lovely Delphine Chanéac played Dren, and obviously whomever gave her the eerie, wide-eyed look of our spliced hybrid knew their stuff. She is hauntingly beautiful, even as the eccentric lab-grown cross-species. And though I've never been privy to what goes on in a first-class, highly funded medical genetics laboratory, I have to say it all looked reasonably legit to me. But then again, I'm not one of these people who picks apart details just to be crass. Again I say, looked pretty damn good to me.
All in all, I guess I feel I have to defend Splice because I've actually heard some fairly derogatory remarks about it. I don't get why. What are you fans expecting? Another Alien? We may never see that again, people! Splice had a decent storyline, even if watered down a bit from the sci-fi gore some are used to. It had sex, nudity, violence, action, and blood. Furthermore, the acting was really good and the effects above average.
But it was the actual character of Dren that had me loving the movie - you feel yourself sucked into her dilemma, her boredom and lack of self-worth that hit me in the gut. You really hoped things got better for her. Once she finally started to blossom though, the film moved to a whole other level. An even better, more disturbing level, in my opinion.
Directed by Vincenzo Natali and exec produced by none other than Guillermo del Toro (which should say something already), Splice is a hybrid itself in a sea swimming with re-makes, re-imaginings, and re-hashes - a sliver of hope in the vast universe of monotonous horror and sci-fi.