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Sundance Review: Splice

By  · Published on January 27th, 2010

Splice borrows liberally from its horror/sci-fi predecessors and emerges with something weirdly original. David Cronenberg stands as the undeniable primary influence on director/co-writer Vincenzo Natali, as the picture evokes and plays with the body horror tropes the Canadian master perfected. It’s another movie about the precarious dividing line between the human and the animal, a rendition of the dangers of experimenting with genetics and the dark side of science adhering to corporate values.

Yet, blessed with a uniquely off-kilter vision, it takes place in a vivid, dark, isolated world of empty boardrooms, dimly lit labs and rickety abandoned farmhouses. With true oddball characters, one of the strangest sex scenes you’ll ever see and an admirable willingness to push its premise to its limits, it stands as a memorable achievement with definite midnight movie potential.

Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley star as Clive and Elsa, married geneticists who have earned pop cultural renown for their gene splicing program. As the picture opens, they put the finishing touches on a female version of a new species they’ve engineered and watch as it mates with the previously constructed male. Unsatisfied with these mushy, blob-like slugs, Elsa, seized by mad scientist frenzy, decides to redo the experiment with human DNA added in. The result: a fast growing human-animal hybrid named Dren, with the smarts and basic appearance of a woman, save for the shrill clicks that serve as her voice, her ability to breathe in water, her thin bony legs, fish-like eyes and three-toed/three-fingered extremities. Oh and there’s the tail, with its sharp, piercing tip.

The couple, conveniently engaged in an ongoing debate over children (he wants them, she doesn’t) relishes the chance to bestow loving parental care on their creation. They’re so enamored with doing so they demonstrate a remarkable knack for laughing off Dren’s destructive animalistic tendencies. This sort of willful blindness, which pervades throughout the film in various manifestations, is to a large extent what makes it so intriguing. Clive and Elsa relate to Dren in constantly shifting ways, struggling in different fashions with several warring instincts. Their parental inclinations clash with their scientific curiosity, as well as their primal attraction to their creation. The fear of being caught, the constant knowledge of the ramifications of what they’ve done and the subtle, pervasive reality of Dren’s unpredictability imbues every scene with multiple subtexts.

The sum of those intersecting parts is a final act rife with dark Freudian perversity and the sense of limits being pushed in favor of the unexpected. The film embraces its B movie aesthetic and all the attendant weirdness, heightening events for scares and imbuing them with a sly sense of humor. It’s goofy, out there and it works.