Review: Splice (2009)

Horror Movie Mini-Review by Zeus | 2014-04-02

Splice (2009)

In this modern day take on Frankenstein, Clive Nicoli (Adrien Brody) and Elsa Kast (Sarah Polley) are genetic engineers who play God, something that never seems to work unless your name is Morgan Freeman. Clive and Elsa's corporate overlord wants them to create slug-like creatures and harvest them for medical patents. The slugs, Fred and Ginger, seem to get along. (The special effects are great, and they get the best scene in the movie, which I won't spoil for you here.) All is well until Clive and Elsa sneak off at night to combine human DNA (and not in the traditional way, if you know what I'm sayin'). Their illegal experiment results in a nasty, teardrop-shaped monster that stings Elsa's arm during the birthing process and nearly kills her. The proof-of-concept was never supposed to get this far. Clive argues they should kill it, Elsa isn't so sure.

The next day, the teardrop is split open, and something is loose in the lab. The creature starts out looking like a cute, armless rodent kangaroo, and goes through several transformations before turning into a cute, albeit freaky, little girl. Elsa names her Dren, which is "nerd" backwards. She easily falls into the mother role, while Clive has major reservations about being caught. Especially after his brother wanders into their hidden playroom and is nearly stung by Dren's poisonous tail.

Eventually, they sneak the rapidly maturing Dren into Elsa's childhood home, a creepy ranch, and here the movie starts to fall apart. It's revealed that Elsa's mother was abusive, a strange plot point they don't know what to do with. There's one scene where Elsa suddenly turns into a sadistic surgeon, complete with dispassionate "autopsy" monologue as her conscious victim struggles. But the next minute, Elsa is back to normal. Considering Dren's human DNA came from Elsa, the fact insanity runs in the family is kind of a big deal. Believe it or not, that's never even brought up. Another missed opportunity is Dren's intelligence. Midway through, she surprises everyone by spelling out "Tedious" with Scrabble letters, a fairly sophisticated complaint. But they don't progress to written notes or even return to the Scrabble pieces. From then on, Dren communicates her growing infatuation with Clive entirely through pantomime. This was a great opportunity to peer into the mind of a monster, but the filmmakers were too busy thinking up creepy, incestuous love scenes to bother.

Splice is well acted and directed (by Vincenzo Natali, Cube), with an interesting premise and top-notch special effects. Unfortunately, the characters, while admittedly nuanced, are pretty much all rotten, and the latter half of the film grows progressively more cheesy. The writers aimed for Cronenberg's Fly, and wound up making Species. If you ask me, they should have stuck with Fred and Ginger. (2/5 stars)

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