Splice combines psychological horror and a riff on the Frankenstein tale to create something that’s, well, really goddamn creepy. Unlike most modern horror which focuses on gore first and character second, Vincenzo Natali’s effort has depth. It may fall short in the final fifteen minutes, but there is enough here to please even non-genre fans. There are few gotcha scares (which I despise), and several scenes of sustained curiosity/discomfort. With one moment that’ll make audiences recoil is disbelief and disgust, here is a movie that knows where the line is and how to cross it effectively.
Scientists Clive (Adrien Brody) and Elsa (Sarah Polley) are a far cry from the “It’s alive!” proclamations of classic horror. We know the couple is edgy because they dress loudly, listen to Holy Fuck while they work, and were on the cover of Wired magazine. When funding on the human aspect of their experiment gets shot down, they decide to go rogue and create a humanoid life-form without telling anyone. Initially Clive has more concern about moral/ethical ramifications, whereas Elsa is more eager to play God. It’s a success, so they begin to nurture their experiment Dren (Delphine Chanéac) as something between a child and pet. I won’t reveal all the mysteries of Dren’s biology, except to say one wouldn’t want to be on the business end of her poisonous tail. Focus on Dren detracts from the couple’s other scientific pursuits, the potentially profitable ones for which they were hired, so when a shareholder meeting goes awry, their personal feelings towards Dren get weirder. And by the time others get whiff of the creature, any semblance of control is completely lost.
Not since Alien has a creature mutated in such an intriguing way, and it’s fun to see how Dren develops. The make-up/creature artists crafted Dren into something that walks the line between human and monster perfectly, so the audience’s feelings towards her are always uneasy. There are times where her joy is heartwarming and her otherworldliness is chilling, and they often occur together. Without strong central performances, such a creature could easily grow tedious, so thankfully Brody and Polley are not a disappointment. As protectors and de-facto parents, they must make difficult leaps and absurd behavior plausible, and they cannily accomplish said goals with an understated approach and a dead-serious delivery. Earlier I alluded one especially creepy moment (you’ll know it when you see it). It runs the risk derailing the entire movie, yet Natali and his screenwriters justify it with complex motivations and a greater message about scientific exploration. There’s an ongoing conversation about the proverbial line and the implications of crossing, and while it’s impossible to say when Elsa and Clive crossed, it’s undeniable that they eventually sprint from it.
On the cab ride home from Splice, I stared out the window and reflected on just how uncomfortable I was made to feel. The driver even noticed and asked if I was alright. My reaction may be different from yours, but I must recommend any movie that provokes one so visceral. With attention to detail and complex character motivations, Natali made a movie with deeper ambition than most horror schlock. There are ideas and sinister implications here, even if it concludes with an all-too-familiar chase sequence. Overall the number of successes outweigh the shortcomings, so for those who are unafraid of being creeped the fuck out, Splice is important viewing.