A couple of young scientists, working for a research company, create an original life-form, only to discover that Mary Shelley had a handle on how such things can turn out.
The first two-thirds of this Canadian production had me ready to pronounce it the best horror film of 2010, and the first great SF/horror flick of the century. When Splice works, it works well, creeping into your consciousness and burrowing deep under your skin. The audience, in turns, laughs, spooks, squirms, and winces. It features strong performances from respected actors, a comparatively original twist on Frankenstein, and a keen sense of setting. The modern version of the classic old mad scientist's lab would be corporate-sponsored, well-funded, heavily-staffed, clean, and slick. It still looks creepy. Once the film exhausts the possibilities of this place, it relocates to a more traditional horror-movie locale.
A clever and witty script clearly establishes the film as horror, yet Splice does not rely on excessive gore and shock. Rather, its thrills are of the creepier, more disturbing sort. While the film's premise addresses old themes of science adrift from morality and newer ones of science tied to corporate profit, the story emphasizes issues of parenting (seen here at its best and most familiar– and at its very, very worst), loneliness, and human relationships. Splice also recognizes its antecedents. Our principal scientists have been named "Elsa Cast" and "Clive Nicoli," and one the most memorable scenes takes a bloody and hilarious twist on a famous bit from King Kong.
Two notable and critically acclaimed actors, Sarah Polley and Adrien Brody give the mad scientists disturbing life. Initially charming, the pair quickly grow more frightening than anything they've created. Splice also boasts a strong supporting cast-- and at least two beguiling and brilliant performers animating "Dren," the triumphant climax of Frankensteinich genii.
The make-up and effects used to realize Dren have been beautifully, creepily, and naturally integrated. The science, of course, serves as a means to an end. I expect horror-movie science to be, at best, wildly implausible. The film does a decent job of making it look almost believable. Just don't think too hard about chimerical Dren from a scientific perspective.
Regrettably, as the script develops, it asks the audience to accept material that, even in context, does not quite make sense. I expected killings, but I would ask viewers to compare these to the Monster's in Universal's still-influential Frankenstein. I understand why, in every single instance, Karloff's Monster murders. The specific attacks here do not follow the same degree of internal logic.
Nevertheless, I'm fine with most of the changes to Dren's personality as she grows and develops. I had problems with the developments in Clive's and Elsa's. The script does prepare us for her buried, disturbed psyche, which Polley depicts a little too well. It's painful to watch an apt portrayal of someone carrying out her own past abuse on the next generation-- even if the next generation is a manufactured monster. In the second half, however, Elsa does too many things and acts a little too disturbed (and occasionally clueless) in order to take the story in a particular direction. As for Clive, his initial unsavory actions make perfect sense; his later, most disturbing act requires a little more explanation or exploration. Neither is forthcoming.
All of this nastily parodic family drama leads to a rather forced scary movie ending that detracts from the film's first two-thirds. The epilogue establishes the too-obvious grounds for a sequel that I hope no one makes.
Splice is not a film for all tastes. We have here a brilliant, well-acted twist on Frankenstein that, alas, fails in its conclusion.
Directed by Vincent Natali
Written by Vincent Natali and Antoinette Terry Bryant, Doug Taylor
Sarah Polley as Elsa Cast
Adrien Brody as Clive Nicoli
Delphine Chanéac as Dren
Abigail Chu as Dren
Various Effects as Dren
Brandon McGibbon as Gavin Nicoli
Christopher Mintz-Plasse as Joan Chorot
David Hewlett as William Barlow