Movie Review: Splice
By Matthew Huntley
June 9, 2010

They're gonna do it. And it's gonna be *gross*.

During Splice, several members of the audience, including myself, laughed at the screen. This isn’t a typical reaction at a science fiction horror-thriller, but to its credit, Splice is far from typical. It’s bizarre, twisted and constantly goes in directions we don’t expect. More people will laugh at it I’m sure, and they’ll probably call it sick and urge others not to see it. But if you’re craving something disturbing and different, which this movie is certainly being marketed as, Splice is for you.

Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley play a couple of biochemists working at the Nucleic Exchange Research and Development facility (N.E.R.D. for short - nice touch). Clive (Brody) and Elsa (Polley) specialize in DNA splicing and they’re working toward synthesizing a protein that could be used to combat several diseases. They’ve already created two blob-like creatures that resemble a pair of spongy walruses, but they want to take their research further and start experimenting with human DNA. Of course, the board of directors thinks this would result in a moral and political nightmare, so Clive and Elsa decide to conduct the experiment in secret.

What they produce is an alien-looking creature that looks more human and becomes more intelligent with each maturation phase. Elsa names the female being Dren (nerd spelled backwards), who comes equipped with muscular legs that reminded me of the velociraptors from Jurassic Park. She’s also bald with eyes spread apart like an insect and has a long, pointy tail with a stinger on the end. Dren (Delphine Chanéac) has other features, too, but I’ll let you discover them for yourself, which is part of the fun. Other than that, she has all the characteristics of a human, complete with the desires to learn, love and ensure the survival of her species, even if it means getting rough with that tail of hers.

There are a lot of sci-fi horror gimmicks out there, and you have to give Splice credit for not succumbing to all the age-old clichés. Director Vincenzo Natali seems more interested in disturbing ideas than shocking images, although there are plenty of those to go around. What we mostly take away from the movie are its unexpectedly human moments. For instance, there’s a scene when Clive wants to cheer Dren up and so he plays her some swing music. Natali lets the scene play out as the two start dancing and the result is quite lovely. Of course, when you step outside the situation, it’s silly and laughable, but it’s believable in the context of the scene. I’d rather have scenes like this than fabricated horror jumps and loud crescendos on the soundtrack.

Where the movie goes from here, I will not reveal, but it’s inevitable that it should all boil down to a thrilling climax. After all, it is a thriller, but a good one at that, and even though I anticipated many of the film’s final events, I still admired the craft and design at which they were handled. The movie is willing to take things a step further and go places other movies would be too shy to venture.

Given its subject matter and absurdity, Splice could rightly be considered a guilty pleasure. But it’s a well-made guilty pleasure. It isn’t a showcase for the actors (the more talented Adrien Brody overshadows Sarah Polley) but the special effects are impressive and the movie maintains a constant element of surprise. I’d rather watch a movie willing to step foot in a new direction than merely retread all the usual conventions, even if it means putting itself at risk of a smaller audience. Those movies are always more memorable and audacious. Splice is one of them.