What are they building in there?

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.


4 thoughts on “What are they building in there?

  1. Unlike you I am quite looking forward to seeing Splice, I’m seeing it on Thursday. Having seen the trailer and read quite a bit about it, I’m hoping that it will deliver more than the usual scifi horror. Your review matches most of the others I have read, in that it shows promise but can’t help but fall into the classic sclocky horror theme.
    Having said that it is difficult to avoid with the idea of a “monster” on the loose. There has to be a threat to engage the audience. Even the superb ‘Alien’ fell into this category, picking off the characters one by one as the movie headed towards the denouement of the standoff between the last character and the monster. It’s the stuff that sets this up that is interesting, the introduction of characters, the drama of scene setting, which from reading your review, Splice does perfectly well.
    I am still looking forward to seeing it!

  2. Saw the trailer, it looks to be ‘okay’. From the 2-3 mins the marketing folks put out before other movies, it seems to be along the lines of Species (which I enjoyed moderately at the time), and I figure 14 years or so makes the format ripe for ‘re-imagining’.

    But yes, I’ll be watching it for Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley. Both have impressed me in the past.

  3. Well, finally got to see this movie last night, and was not disappointed. Yes it did go a bit schlocky at times but it did raise a lot of moral and ethical questions about the use of genetics and the creation of new species. There were also socialogical issues raised with ideas of dysfunctional familes and how your own family history can effect how you treat others. All in all quite a thoughtful, well acted scifi horror flick that I would definitely recommend.
    My friend pointed out to me that Sarah Polley was the little girl in ‘Baron Munchausen’, I had no idea!

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