Splice is an interesting little sci-fi flick that came out of nowhere and unexpectedly wiggled its way into my brain, with a fascinating concept and the creation of a creature so unique and memorable, I can’t get it out of my mind even now, days later.
With the amount of marketing I saw for the film, I figured it was something I’d be forced to download off the internet in a few months, as surely it couldn’t be heading to a theater near me. But alas, this isn’t Moon, and somehow Splice did end up with a wide release, though its weekend numbers would indicate otherwise.
I feel like this one of the first niche genre films that I’ve actually managed to catch in theaters, as movies like this usually succumb to underwhelming numbers, and five years later a friend burns the DVD onto my computer. No, it’s not world-changing, but it’s a neat little film with interesting concepts and one truly memorable lead.
I’m of course speaking of Dren, the human/animal hybrid created by punk geneticists Clive (Adrien Brody) and Elsa (Sarah Polley), who wear patches on their lab coats and have five foot high framed pictures of anime in their house because REAL scientists don’t follow the rules!
What do you call a centaur when it’s a human combined with a dinosaur?
And follow the rules they don’t. It’s rather unclear what their original mission is, but it’s genetic engineering-for-profit, as some uber corporation wants them to create a new species out of the DNA of many who will be able to feed the masses or something like that. Unfortunately, all they come up with using all the animal DNA in the world are giant, slithering flesh blobs with a propensity to French kiss rather exquisitely.
When they’re told to get back on the money making track, after their experiments become too…experimental, they say “**** you” to their corporate overlords and head back to the lab to try and splice a human with an animal, to uh, see what happens I guess.
Well, the result is as morally and genetically confused as you might expect. Little Dren pops out of a cocoon that would make Ridley Scott’s Aliens proud, and appears to be some kind of baby dinosaur and/or chicken. Actually, what animals are combined a human to make Dren are never really made clear. She has a tail, a stinger, aquatic lungs, bird-like legs and the ability to sprout dragonfly-ish wings if she gets too close to a rooftop.
I think it takes more than skin flaps for something human-sized to fly.
Dren really is a wonder of creature animation. Clearly parts of her must be CGI, as many of her features are a physical impossibility for someone in makeup, but the computer animation is so seamlessly blended with that flesh and bone body of actress Delphine Chaneac, you have to force yourself to remember she’s not a real person. Needless to say, with a creation so memorable, I was not surprised to see Guillermo Del Toro’s name in the credits.
The film itself is good, but not as great as its concept. The early stages of hiding baby Dren away in the lab are more bumbling comedy than anything close to horror. The film reaches a great and unexpected dramatic tone midway through, when Dren starts looking less like a baby goose and more like an actual girl, albeit one who was conceived in Chernobyl.
During this time, the film wrestles with some complex moral issues. How human is Dren? Can she reason? Is she intelligent? Is it OK to think she’s hot? The more uh, open-minded in the audience might start asking that last question when Dren’s hyper-aging propels her to a full female form in adulthood, and Adrien Brody’s Clive starts wrestling with those strange feelings as well. The end result? One of the most insane scenes I believe I’ve ever had the pleasure of witnessing in a sci-fi film, and one that will make me remember Splice long after it’s over.
The film tries to jam in a subplot about Elsa’s shitty past, and tries to tie it into her reasons for creating Dren, but it all feels rather cobbled together, and I would have appreciated an extra ten minutes or so making that story an integral part of the film.
Unfortunately, the film cops out at the very end, and in the last few minutes devolves (no pun intended) into a typical creature horror film with people getting chased around the woods and hitting their heads on branches. I’m glad they moved on from the comedic opening scenes, but I wish they had stuck with the dramatic core that made up the bulk of the story. A last minute switch to horror at the end just feels forced, and it’s too many different genres smashed into one film.
Splice is a very pleasant surprise, and I’m glad I got to catch it now rather than having it recommended to me by a friend of a friend six years from now. It might not quite live up to its concept, but with incredible creature animation and a well-paced story, it’s a sleeper that could evolve into a niche classic down the road.
3.5 out of 5 stars