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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 15.52%
Average: 6.9%
Pretty Bad: 29.31%
Total Crap: 10.34%

6 reviews, 22 user ratings

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by Peter Sobczynski

"She Saw Me Coming"
5 stars

I went into the screening of the new horror movie “Splice” fully expecting to see one kind of movie and wound up seeing an entirely different one instead This is not an entirely unusual occurrence because plenty of movies open up with ad campaigns designed to make them look like things that are completely different from what they actually are--remember a couple of weeks ago when “MacGruber” was released with trailers and commercials that suggested that it was a comedy? The difference is that for the first time in a while, the difference was actually a positive thing. Based on the ads, I assumed that it was going to be little more than a cheesy knock-off of “Species,” the endearingly silly 1995 monster movie best remembered for displaying the pulchritude of Natasha Henstridge and the scenery-chewing abilities of Ben Kingsley and Alfred Molina. (Do you suppose the two of them spent their downtime on the “Prince of Persia” set reminiscing over those good old days?) Instead, in one of the happiest surprises of what has otherwise been a fairly dismal cinematic summer, it turns out that “Splice” is a fascinating take on the genre that doesn’t unfold in the expected ways and is often as creepy and deranged as Don Murphy on an internet discussion board, though always infinitely more lucid, intelligent and entertaining.

The film stars Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley as Clive Nicoli and Elsa Kast, a pair of hotshot genetic engineers who are experimenting with splicing the DNA of several different animals in the hopes of creating a brand-new organism containing all sorts of material that will be of scientific and commercial value to the biotech firm that is underwriting their work. Upon successfully creating a pair of creatures (nicknamed Fred and Ginger and resembling the offspring of an uncooked loaf of bread and one of the sandworms from “Dune“), Clive and Elsa hope to take the next logical step and see what happens when human DNA is added to the mix but they are quickly shot down by their higher-ups--they would much prefer that the two spend their time isolating and perfecting the promising protein that they have been waiting for and besides, using human DNA would be illegal, unethical and generally a pretty bad idea no matter what. However, the two are not going to let pesky legal and ethical concerns get in the way of their pursuit of scientific breakthroughs at all costs and surreptitiously begin to create a new creature using human DNA as part of the recipe. Not only does the mixture take, the resulting embryo grows at an extremely accelerated rate and before long, it transforms into a creature resembling a cross between a jackrabbit and the thing that popped out of John Hurt in “Alien.” At that point, Clive wants to destroy it and end the experiment but Elsa, a woman who refuses to have children of her own as the result of her own particularly traumatic childhood at the hands of a mother who denied her virtually everything, instantly bonds with the thing and insists on keeping it alive. Besides, since it is continuing to grow and age at a rapid rate, it will die naturally before too long and they will be able to study its entire life cycle in the process.

Time passes and the creature, dubbed Dren (Delphine Chaneac), soon demonstrates a keen intelligence and other surprising attributes to its proud parents in the lab storeroom where it has been stashed to keep it away from prying eyes. Unfortunately, their concentration on Dren causes them to lose focus on their other experiments and when they literally blow up in their faces, the company begins to clamp down on the facility and Clive and Elsa are forced to move Dren elsewhere. Luckily (or not), Elsa still owns the isolated family farm that was the location of all her own childhood traumas and they wind up setting up shop there. The trouble is that as Dren continues to grow and develop, she begins to undergo feelings and changes that she is unable to understand or process and which her ersatz parents are equally unequipped to deal with--after all, if you think riding out puberty with a normal adolescent is difficult, try doing it with a super-strong mutant with a tendency to deploy new and unexpected appendages at the drop of a hat and sports a tail containing an extremely dangerous stinger. At a loss as to what to do, Elsa finds herself reverting to the lessons learned from her own maternal model while convincing herself that her cruelties are being performed in the service of science. As for Clive, he finds himself developing a stronger bond with Dren but that too only inspires more trouble and eventually leads to a Grand Guignol-style finale that pretty much defies rational description.

“Splice” was co-written and directed by Vincenzo Natali, a filmmaker who caused a bit of a stir in 1997 with his feature debut, the sci-fi head spinner “Cube,” and then kind of drifted away into the worlds of direct-to-video features and episodic TV. Right from the start of “Splice,” however, he demonstrates as sure of a directorial hand as has been seen in anything in the horror genre of late. The film itself is a bit of a hybrid itself in the way that it combines the DNA of the films of James Whale and David Cronenberg, two of the most effective practitioners of the mad scientist subgenre. From Whale, Natali has extracted a strain of morbid black humor that offers up a number of big and wholly unexpected laughs throughout at just the right time--the scene in which an important presentation turns into a big mess is a hilarious bit of gross-out humor that manages to top itself in the next scene with an absolutely perfect piece of dialogue. He also handles the character of Dren in much the same way that Whale handled the Frankenstein Monster--as something to be looked at with a certain degree of sympathy instead of fear. By inspiring us to look at her as someone with real feelings and emotions instead as just another slobbering creature, it adds an extra level of poignancy to the proceedings that help the film work as an emotional drama as well as a horror film. From Cronenberg, he nails the weirdo body horror stuff but also effectively creates an oddball and sometimes downright unsettling atmosphere that is of our world without ever feeling a part of it--a place where the rules of normal society no longer really apply and where anything goes, including the consequences.

And yet, “Splice” is not simply an example of a young filmmaker copying the tropes of his elders because he has nothing of his own to offer. In fact, he goes about telling his story in the strong and confident manner of a filmmaker who has a bold vision that he wants to share with his audience and the consummate technical skills required to bring it off. Most importantly, he stays true to that vision throughout without ever tampering it down in the hopes of making things more audience-friendly. Instead of shying away from the increasingly dark and perverse nature of the material and going for a more conventional approach, he embraces it wholeheartedly and the results may startle even the most jaded horror fans. (Put it this way--this is the film that “The Human Centipede” more or less wanted to be.) He also knows how to get strong performances from his actors, not always the greatest consideration in a film of this type. The casting of Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley, two actors who aren’t particularly known for their work in this particular genre, is exceptionally brilliant because they are both talented performers and they both give off the kind of oddball, outsider vibe that fits in perfectly with their characters, both of whom see themselves as different and better than average people because of their particular skill sets, and this helps make their subsequent actions far more convincing than if they had come from a couple of blander and more straight-laced types. The killer performance, however, comes from Delphine Chaneac, who is simply incredible as Dren. Her simultaneously sensitive, scary and sexy turn is a marvel to behold and may be the best to occur in the genre since Angela Bettis’ work in the great and underrated “May.”

As fans of horror films know all too well, this has not exactly been a particularly fruitful period for the genre--when even a figure as revered in the field as George Romero turns up with a surprisingly substandard work like the recent “Survival of the Dead,” you know that things are getting pretty grim. “Splice,” however, is a considerable exception to the current rule and one of the best films of its type to come along in a while--a work that could seem at home both in the arthouse and the grindhouse. The only drawback, however, is that wildly deceptive ad campaign that I mentioned earlier--a bit of work that seems to be designed specifically to lure in viewers looking for just another mindless grossout, which it most certainly isn’t, while pushing away those in the mood for something strange, cerebral and off the beaten path, which it most certainly is. If you are part of the latter group, I assure you that “Splice” is infinitely better than the one promised in the trailers. If you are part of the former, I assure you that while it may not be the barf-bag epic that is promised in the trailers, it does contain many of the elements that you are presumably looking for in a horror film--smart writing, weirdo monsters, a couple of clever plot twists and a moment that may not top the list of weirdest sex scenes in the history of cinema but which will comfortably find a notch in the mid-twenties at least. Oh yeah, there are a few icky parts too--really, really icky.

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originally posted: 06/04/10 14:01:25
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2010 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Seattle International Film Festival For more in the 2010 Seattle International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

2/19/20 Dr.Lao Apparently they spent so much on special effects they could not afford set lights 3 stars
10/30/16 morris campbell dull icky and dumb unless your into sex with mutants 1 stars
8/23/12 TreeTiger A very good, albeit, very unusual horror movie. 5 stars
11/10/11 matthew thompson dalldorf Made me cry 5 stars
11/02/11 KingNeutron Nice acting from Delphine, but horribly slow-paced - kept FF at 1.5-2x for most of it! 2 stars
11/29/10 TheyAllFallApart Simply appalling. 1 stars
11/07/10 Real Critic Elsa "There are things we just don't do!" Sex w/3 week old mutants is frowned upon LOL 3 stars
10/30/10 gc If u like watching people have sex w/mutants u will love this movie. Truly absurd 2 stars
10/17/10 reptilesni Illogical & unclear motivations for character's actions. Should've been better. Wasn't. 1 stars
10/13/10 Meep Has some nice moments, but ultimately boring and predictable 2 stars
8/17/10 TravisN Definitely not for everyone, but I found a lot to like in it. 4 stars
6/22/10 Pim The movie kept me interested with terrific visuals, but it's not appropriate for everyone. 3 stars
6/22/10 christy spires This is one of the worst movies I have ever seen!!! 1 stars
6/22/10 Ken Kastenhuber A terrible parenting parable, lame. 3 stars
6/16/10 Ace-of-Stars Not so much "bad" as it was "irritating"! "Dren" was the ONLY sympathetic character in it! 2 stars
6/14/10 Naneek1 Engaging, well, acted, delightfully sick horror-comedy. At least it's not a remake! 4 stars
6/13/10 Ming One of the best sci-fi of the year...Inter spice mating is interesting 4 stars
6/09/10 Eric Olsen The movie was great 5 stars
6/08/10 action movie fan some potential but generally boring and go nowhere story-this years movies have been dull 2 stars
6/07/10 NyJonesy26 Completely awesome is the only way I can describe this movie. 5 stars
6/06/10 chris does adrian brody have bookies to pay back? 1 stars
6/05/10 Ronald Holst If you enjoyed Spices you will be board stiff with this one ! 1 stars
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  04-Jun-2010 (R)
  DVD: 05-Oct-2010


  DVD: 05-Oct-2010

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