Monday 26 July 2010

Review: Splice

Year: 2009 (UK Release: 2010)
Director: Vincenzo Natali
Screenplay: Vincenzo Natali, Antoinette Terry Bryant, Doug Taylor
Starring: Adrien Brody, Sarah Polley, Delphine Chanéac

Note: Be forewarned. There's some slight "spoiler" moments within the review. Nothing too specific mind.

Synopsis is here

Once again the movie marketers strike. Unable to create a trailer that truly encapsulates what this sci-fi drama is about, these sneak attackers of the movie world once again hit the movie goer with a promo that gives the film the wrong feel. The trailers for Splice make us feel like we're in for a film that could double up with that "classic" piece of 90's sci-fi erotica: Species. But no. Despite Splice's look, it actually feels like a hybrid of The Fly (1986) and...American Beauty (1999)...kinda. There's more talking than I expected in Splice, but this is because it merely cares about what's talking about a little more than a more generic offering.

Taking it's notes from the Cronenbergs body horror/tragic romance or more exactly William Friedkin's The Exorcist (1973). Splice plays out more like a family drama with sci-fi added after thought than a the full on thriller it's advertising suggested. While the forefront gives us abject oozing, winged hybrids and all manner of gene meddling nonsense; the subtext touches on children giving birth to children, nature and nurture arguments and of course humans playing god. Splice of course has genre requirements and it's obvious dialogue and campy moments remind you that it's not THAT serious a film. However, the film does mark a maturing point in writer/director Natali's career.

The most interesting points I took from the film stem from Splice's most fleshed out character; that of Sarah Polley's Elisa. This is a character who has been brought up from a abusive family to become a successful young scientist. Her background plays an important role throughout that film as we watch Elisa start off as a idealistic researcher with no wish for children (clearly stemming from her relationship with her mother), to idealistic "mother", before becoming crucially, her own mother. It's an interesting arc that not only plays off well with the genetic jump around, but also provides a intriguing grey area for a character that we would usually provide straight sympathy for. Polley takes a while to get on board with at first, but as we delve into her character more, she really starts to tuck into the meat of the role. Adrien Brody once again has to inject life into a character who is quite flat and appears to struggle against the more impressive Polley but this seems to stem from have not as much to do screenplay wise. With this said however, the two leads share a nice amount of chemistry with Natali filming the squabbling scenes with a nice touch of melodrama that really mixes things up with the more gross aspects of the movie.

I really enjoyed the fact that despite the films sci-fi settings (with dialogue blatantly telling us that they've "crossed a line!") the film, quietly confident in it's way gives us a film about two immature adults who have yet to find the balance in their own life in order to bring up another life. From the telling misc en scene (a massive Anime poster centralizing a youthfully geeky apartment), to the music the characters listen to (Brody's characters incessant rock and roll listening) I was quickly reminded of the parents of Dogtooth in this couples inability to find a true emotional connection to their "child".

The "child" and main sci-fi element of the film itself is Dren, the DNA spliced hybrid. Dren's performance is a combination of child-like curiosity, vulnerability and viciousness with just a right hint of allure to make things difficult later on. Delphine Chanéac does well with the role and like Polley's Ilsa (the two arcs of the characters sometimes mirror each due to story elements) we are given not just an out and out crime against nature but a youthful being who is clearly missing the guidance sorely needed at such a young stage. Near the end it's clear that Dren becomes more of a risk, but this stems from the issues of the "parents" than anything else.

Splice goes into some provocative situations later on in the movie, playing on Oedipal elements and some slight touching on gender politics that enhance about some of the films more disturbing moments. It doesn't completely follow through, climaxing with a third act that ends a tad too conventionally for my liking. To add a small insult to injury, the decision to have such a standard sci-fi thriller ending almost feels like a cheat to everything that's happened before it. But no matter. It's a film that manages to balance family melodrama with creepy things going on involving a actress made up to look part model, part Chris Cunningham experiment. For the most part it does that rather well.