- What’s the worst that could happen?” says Sarah Polley’s rogue bio-geneticist, serving clear notice that something terrible is going to happen.
It’s a bit of tongue-in-cheek foreshadowing that nudges viewers to traverse the literary and cinematic history of doomed overreachers, from Pandora and Prometheus through Mary Shelley’s creator to Seth Brundle’s human porridge. Cube director Vincenzo Natali’s thoughtful indie sci-fi is a Frankenstein story in more ways than one.
Elsa and Clive (Polley and Adrien Brody, named for Bride Of Frankenstein leads Elsa Lanchester and Colin Clive) are hip, brilliant young scientists at the bleeding edge of their field, creating genetic hybrids using animal DNA. Things aren’t going how they want, so they secretly develop a new hybrid, adding human DNA to the mix. The result is Dren, a rapidly maturing female with a prehensile tail and a mind of her own. You can see where it’s going. But only some of the way.
Splice is a mongrel of ideas from the ancient to the new. Genetic engineering paranoia meets mythical chimera; the future of human evolution clashes with the Electra complex; a cure for cancer conflicts with parental responsibility. Imagine a nightmarish We Need To Talk About Frankenstein’s Monster as penned by Sophocles. Something like that. And it stands or falls on its performances.
Thankfully Polley and Brody hit the mark – she’s icily ambitious, he’s careless and easily led, both are selfish and familiar. Dren, meanwhile, is mesmerising. A seamless mix of puppetry, CGI, animatronics and actress Delphine Chanéac’s intense performance – she’s expressive without language, beautiful yet not human, intelligent, vulnerable, and at times terrifying. Like a kid with a hand grenade, she doesn’t understand the power that she holds.
A glossy sci-fi on a low budget, Splice is a mesh of body horror, family drama and hostage thriller . Though controversial in the States, this isn’t Cronenberg; it’s not gritty and no one’s knob falls off. But it’s not Species either – everyone’s culpable, no one’s to be trusted.
High production values and a fast-moving story – as well as, yes, some clunky sign-posting and iffy dialogue – at times obscure the troubling subtext. The barn. The spreading of wings...
If the film itself over-reaches, it’s in the third act – asking too much, ending too generically. Thankfully, though, it’s not enough to spoil this dense, emotionally rich cross-breed.
Impressive FX lend credibility to a pacey but cerebral sci-fi that’s not embarrassed to be entertaining. We bid that Natali’s hideous progeny go forth and prosper…