Canadian filmmaker Vincenzo Natali (Cube) made a splash at this year’s Sundance Film Festival when he unleashed his long-gestating Splice, which was subsequently picked up for wide distribution by Warner’s Dark Castle Entertainment.
Part morality tale, part creature sci-fi, his film is the story of what happens when bio-engineers play with the building blocks of life without considering the moral and ethical consequences of what they do. But more importantly, Splice is the kind of movie that can be made when filmmakers aren’t afraid to consider the consequences of thinking outside the box. As a result, we filmgoers are treated to a slickly produced little piece of provocative filmmaking that constantly pushes the envelope of expectation and curiosity. If you like to think while you ingest your horror, then this one’s for you.
The story revolves around genetic engineers Clive (Adrian Brody) and Elsa (Sarah Polley) a couple of rogue scientists who’ve hit a bit of a snag in their research involving the splicing together of DNA from different animals to create incredibly productive new hybrids… hybrids that have great commercial and economic promise.
But while the natural next step in their research is to introduce human DNA into the chain to speed things along by filling in some of the genomic gaps, that’s a place their financial backers aren’t willing to go. When reminded that human cloning is illegal, a defiant Elsa retorts, “this won’t be human… not entirely.”
What they create is an odd little kangaroo-legged, seal-faced creature they call Dren (nerd spelled backwards as those who recall a particular episode of Happy Days already know). Clive wants to kill it, but is eventually dragged along for the ride by Elsa, who thinks it’s cute and figures there’s more to be learned by raising the thing. The scientists quickly learn their first mistake was creating Dren, their second is letting her live.
While the film looks incredible, especially for an independent production, the real brilliance comes from the themes explored and the questions it raises but doesn’t always answer. Scientists and doctors often struggle with the “God-complex,” and despite their great knowledge of the make-up of living beings, they often lack the basic understanding of what life really is. Boy do Elsa and Clive ever get a crash course in parenthood!
Splice dabbles in the same moral ambiguities that made Shelley’s Frankenstein such a relevant and thought-provoking story of the time. But it takes those same ideas a bit further and mixes into the murky cauldron of ethicality, our modern relationship to biotechnology and the doors it might unlock. The science behind Splice, while still outside the realm of real-world accomplishment, is really not that far from reality. And that’s what gives the film a genuine sense of skin-crawling authenticity. Is it unrealistic to think that there’s not some lab buried somewhere in the dingy bowels of a research institute near French Lick, Indiana where a research team is dabbling in human cloning?
We soon learn that Dren has super metabolism and ages very quickly. She grows from fetus to infant in a matter of days, soon losing her grotesquely malformed facial features to ones that are not only more human-like, but actually quite attractive. Relative newcomer - and extremely attractive - French actress Delphine Chaneac plays Dren as an adult. A mixture of practical effects and CG combine to form the wings and animalistic limbs of the humanoid, but the face, torso, and sexual prowess are very human. So we sit in curious wonder at whether they’ll take developments where we think they’re going… they do. We told you envelopes would be pushed.
Though Brody and Polley are certainly fine actors, and do a lot to help the film’s pedigree, equal credit must be given to Chaneac, who manages to take the difficult role of mutant life form and infuse it with impassioned sensitivity. Dren is really a vile creature, as are Clive and Elsa, but the actors actually manage to make us care for their characters, despite the horrible choices they make.
Because of its indie background and lack of a big marketing machine, Splice will go largely unseen by mass audiences. And that’s a shame. But it has the potential to eventually become a cult favorite. It’s a smartly written, sharply produced and well-acted tale that often dabbles in the ridiculous and gross. But no matter whether you like it or hate it, you’ll definitely be talking about it long after the credits roll. The sci-fi genre is alive and well.
Available on Blu-ray - October 5, 2010
Screen Formats: 1.85:1
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1; Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Two-disc set (1 BD, 1 DVD); Digital copy (on disc); DVD copy; BD-Live
Following the specifications of Tetsuo Nagata's cinematography style, the Blu-ray transfer is paler and greener than most. It’s cold, distant and certainly stylized to bring the idea of isolation to the frontlines. The detail is still solid, but be prepared for a very antiseptic quality to the palette of colors. The sound; however, does not underwhelm the senses. It is presented with a pretty solid DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track that only sometimes – with dialogue – sounds a bit shrill, and even that is usually when the tension is high.
- There are none, which for fans of the movie, desperately wanting to know more about its creation and inspiration, is a bit of a letdown.
Featurettes: Unfortunately, there is only one feature for fans to sink their teeth into.
- A Director's Playground: Vincenzo Natali on the Set of ‘Splice’ (35 minutes): while this feature is pretty thorough regarding the look and feel of the film, its running time will leave some wanting more (also since this is the only feature). This is pretty interesting, though. It’s basically a ‘Making Of’ feature that feels a bit more inclusive due to its quality of interviews.
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