Vincenzo Natali has become somewhat of a science fiction cult director in recent years, helming the now well-known and celebrated Cube. Although never quite mainstream, his other foray Cypher has showcased a director that isn’t reluctant to call science fiction his forte. Too often in the past we see those with a penchant for the fantastique moving away into other more ‘serious’ realms when they find greater clout to wield. Thus the David Cronenberg’s of the world are a seldom phenomenon and should be treasured for their commitment and loyalty. Natali is one such director still finding his feet, and with Splice moves entirely into the mainstream.
A scientist team that are also a couple, Elsa (Sarah Polley) and Clive (Adrian Brody), are on the cutting edge of human/animal gene splicing, and are trying to develop a protein for a major corporation. When their experiments herald the arrival of new species, they decide to go rouge and take it to the next level: splicing human and animal DNA. When each small breakthrough leads to another victory, the scientists set in motion an irrevocable chain of advents that gives birth to Dren … an entirely new progeny female in gender and having hybrid characteristics.
Fitting this particular premise are typical plot-offshoots that go hand and hand with it: the ethical and moral dilemmas … is it right to play with God’s codes and maps if it could lead to a victory over disease? And is there an ultimate price to pay if we succeed? Of course, there is nothing new here – but we get the feeling there isn’t supposed to be. The characters of Elsa and Clive are even named as a homage to central characters in Bride of Frankenstein. That said, the first half of the film does feel original in its execution, with the real star here Dren. This is no run-of-the-mill Alien/Species knock-off: watching the creature as it grows and learns at a breakneck pace is disconcerting to say the least – the CGI is flawless, giving an authentic performance that, once married with regular prosthetics, has the viewer feeling prickly with dread.
Throughout, there is the undercurrent of the domestic, as we see Elsa’s and Clive’s relationship and unresolved personal issues taken into disarray by the their current predicament. In this regard, there was so much to like, but what ultimately lets the film down is the final third, a finale that feels taped on and sinks to the level of Natali’s cheaper films. Obvious script re-writes are layered on as though no one (including the director), knew how to finish it. There is one unexpected development that is implausible to the point it’s laughable. And from here, any aficionado can guess where things lead.
But this does not take away the films gains, and having an A list performer like Brody elevates the production into something that deserved to make theatrical release. French actress Delphine Chaneac gives the character of Dren an uncanny take that makes us feel and fear her at the same time. This alone makes Splice a small triumph.