Anyone else seen this new Canadian sci-fi horror movie Splice? It’s not my usual tall glass of soya latte of a Saturday night, but what the heck? Although I could see where it was coming from, stylistically, what I enjoyed most about the experience was seeing something at the cinema which I knew very little about in advance. I knew it was about gene-splicing and that it had Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley in it: both capable and intelligent actors (and she, of course, the impressive first-time director of Away From Her), but neither somebody I’d rush out to see a film for. Splice is directed by Vincenzo Natali, most famous for Cube, which I’ve never seen. He also made Cypher, which I’ve never seen. So, to reiterate, I was entering the cinema on a Saturday night with very little baggage. Apart from my bag.
And guess what, it starts brilliantly and promisingly. Recalling the likes of Alien and Cronenberg’s The Fly, the action mostly takes place in a blue-hued lab, possibly a little way into the future but not too far, where Brody and Polley head up a team who are splicing different animal genes to form hybrids, whose DNA might be isolated in order to cure all known human diseases (the usual driving force behind this type of research, as we know). If they don’t hurry up, the pharmaceutical giant – characterised, naturally, by a horrible starchy bitch woman who cares not for science, only for revenue – will pull their funding, and they won’t have a nice, blue-hued lab to play with any more. Anyway, and this isn’t a spoiler, they splice some human DNA with that of a hybrid, and the result is … well, if you’ve seen the stills, which are everywhere (stills I have taken care not to reproduce here), or some giveaway versions of the poster, you’ll know pretty much what the result looks like. And, in common with all good creatures in this type of sci-fi horror, it grows and develops at lightning speed, which helps move the action along.
In brief: Splice starts out as something really interesting and unusual and original, then goes through a sledgehammer Freudian passage (Brody and Polley behave like the hybrid’s parents) that will either cause you to gasp or guffaw – bit of both at the showing I saw – but ends up turning into an utterly conventional it’s-behind-you monster movie. This is such a shame. The low-budget, claustrophic atmosphere of the first act was so cleverly built up, and Brody and Polley deliver good, unshowy, realistic, downbeat performances that suit the mood. It reminded me of Darren Aronovsky’s Pi, and that is a high compliment. But either an imagined pressure to deliver the goods, or a very real pressure from those holding the purse-strings, seemed to push an original film into an unoriginal place. The irony of this is that the film casts the corporate sponsor as the villain. Ha!
Still, glad I went. All too often I go to the cinema with an all-too-clear idea of what I’m going to get. As the opening credits rolled for Splice, the words artfully and disturbingly suspended in a sort of amniotic fluid, I thought: great, surprise me. And it did, for a while.