Thursday, June 3, 2010
"Splice" is unlike any cinematic experience I've had this year, or ever.
It starts out as clever science fiction with a strong bent of morality, as scientists break ethical barriers over human cloning. Then it turns into a horror film, briefly a sexual thriller, and it ends on a fairly standard action movie note. A final, unsettling coda gives the audience one last kick in the gut.
Oh, and I forgot to mention the part where it turns into a comedy. At least, there are some very funny moments, though I'm still figuring out if the movie was trying to do this, or was even aware of it.
All I know is I really enjoyed myself. Here's a mainstream film that truly dares to be daring.
"Splice" is a disturbing movie that takes chances and isn't just out to scare its audience -- it really wants to blow their minds. The audience at the advance screening was uproarious, screeching one moment and bewildered the next. One woman did not stop laughing for 10 minutes solid, even when the film had moved past its neck-whipping changeup and resumed serious-and-scary mode.
Sarah Polley and Adrien Brody play Elsa and Clive, two cutting-edge biochemists working for Newstead, a big pharmaceutical company. Their latest creation is a pair of larvae-looking things that produce proteins important to life-saving drugs the company hopes to get rich off of.
The pair have an insouciant edge, favoring studded black leather jackets, and are featured on the cover of Wired magazine. They're rock stars in lab coats.
When Newstead proposes to shut down their pure research lab in favor of something they can quickly monetize, Elsa suggests one last experiment combining human and animal DNA -- just to prove they can do it. They'll flush it before the fetus gets too far along.
Things go well -- too well. Before they know it, an ugly little two-legged baby creature is born. Clive favors killing it, but Elsa sees the child she always secretly wanted but protested they didn't have time for. Soon the creature grows into a slightly less ugly, more or less human-looking child they name Dren.
Dren seems to have near-human intelligence but can't talk, preferring a series of clicks and high-pitched hums. As she approaches her teen years in a matter of weeks, Dren starts showing signs of rebellion and a desire to escape the confines of the laboratory basement where the scientists have stuck her.
Elsa and Clive take her to Elsa's old family farm, where they lock Dren in the barn, and things start to get loopy. Growing quickly to adulthood, Dren is now played by Delphine Chanéac -- with a little assistance from CGI. She has a shallow channel that bisects her hairless head, eyes that are a bit too far apart and feral, and legs jointed like a dog's. Dren also has gills and ... well, some other accessories that will reveal themselves in time.
At this point I must cop out and decline to reveal anything further that happens, because this film's appeal is based entirely on continually surprising its audience. All I'll say is that there's a point where the movie is heading toward a place that makes one think, "They couldn't possibly really be going there" -- and then they go there.
As shocking, ridiculous and disturbing as this development is, you ain't seen nothing yet. Because the last half of "Splice" just keeps doubling down on sheer weirdness and plot twists that inspire laughter and terror -- often in equal doses, and simultaneously.
To be honest, I don't know for sure if director Vincenzo Natal (who is also a co-screenwriter) intended for the comedic parts in a schlocky way. Brody and Polley pitch their performances in a way that makes me think they're in on the gag, but I'm not entirely certain.
What I took away from "Splice" was a profound sense of discomfort that I really liked experiencing. This movie knocked me out of my comfort zone in a major way, kept me guessing nearly all of the time, and made me feel like my skin wanted to crawl away from my body.
Inserted amidst a summer of cookie-cutter plots and action-packed idiocy, "Splice" is an unnerving movie that I'll not soon forget.
3.5 stars out of four