Sunday, June 6, 2010

Review: "Splice"

As I am sure you all know by now, Splice is director and co-writer Vincent Natali's personal take on Mary Shelley's tale of an obsessed scientist who creates life. In fact, in a rather amusing nod to it's inspiration, the scientists are named for two actors from James Whales' masterpiece The Bride of Frankenstein, Colin Clive and Elsa Lanchester.

Splice starts off with a literal birth, shot from the newborn's point of view - an exceptionally traumatic event which ends well when the newborn is saved by Clive and Elsa, it's "parents." Well, "his" parents, I suppose as they name the curiously phallic (seriously, it's a huge penis) beastie 'Fred' and introduce him to the equally phallic "Ginger." A sort of french kiss imprinting ensues and the scientists celebrate. And so ends any happy thing for the rest of this icky and silly movie that both could have and should have been better than it was.

Of course, the big evil pharma that Clive and Elsa work for only wants the protein these things create to synthesize the next big miracle drug... or something. We know they're an evil corporation because the "Bottom Line" is their only interest. Obsessed Elsa pushes her totally p-whipped boyfriend Clive into conducting secret, illegal experiments using human DNA, just to see if they can. Apparently, Horror and Sci-Fi just don't exist in this world, and no one has learned the ancient and oft repeated cautionary: Don't Play God, Dumbass! But no, they create a "child," whom Elsa later names Dren (another double-joke involving the exceptionally unlikely acronym of their lab's name). Dren, with her ostrich like legs, prehensile toes, impossibly huge eyes and poison-stingered tail is certainly a curious (and beautifully-rendered) creature, even if she too, starts out looking like a walking penis. (I swear... ask D.) And there are plenty of other disturbing elements of this movie that put the ick in icky, that I'll get to later..

Sarah Polley's Elsa is woman of only the best intentions, who can't allow morality to stand in the way of scientific progress. Polley, usually a fine actress and director, plays the role a little too intensely, bordering on the silly, at times. Brody's Clive is a mopey nerd who only goes along with it because he knows he could never really get a girl as hot as Polley in real in life. That's really the only thing I could think might have been the character's motivation for going along with his gal's plan, even as the situation grows more and more dire. Then there's Dren, played as a child by Abigail Chu and as an adult by Delphine Chaneac, a chirping, clicking and super-intelligent sub-human in a dress. Assisted by both make-up and digital manipulation, Dren is just attractive enough to make us want to be empathetic, but dangerous enough to be wary of. The FX here are creepily effective and one of the movie's only two strengths, though Chu and Chaneac both give remarkable physical performances, even through all that fiddling with their appearances.

Despite a silly and exceptionally early montage, Splice starts out as a slick take on a classic Sci-Fi Thriller. Sadly, the plot stalls in the second act (D told me it all made him uncomfortable, in the way that being around specials needs children make some people uncomfortable. Ouch!), including a scene during which I turned to D and whispered "Puttah on de Riiiii..." and the ickiest sex scene since One Night in Paris. The third act simply degenerates into a not-particularly scary or even exciting monster hunt. What should have been a seat-jumping thrill ride, instead becomes over-thought, over-wrought psycho-drama. What Splice really lacked to make it successful, was any sort of real suspense or surprise. Borrowing heavily from those that came before (and not ironically or in recognizable homage), Splice references plots and visuals from Alien; It's Alive; Species; Jurassic Park; The Fly and dozens of other better movies, but debases those films' plot devices by tying them all together rather sloppily.

While unlike D (who turned to me after it was over and said "I so hated this movie! I never want to see it again"*), I didn't hate Splice, but I didn't really like it. It wasn't bad, exactly. It just wasn't very good, either. It's a shame, because I really like the previous work of the folks involved and so I suppose I somehow expected more. It seems like every one was more interested in a paycheck than in making a good movie, which is sadly more and more the case.

Oh, I mentioned two good things about the movie. You know I love film scores ( a full third of my music collection are soundtracks and scores). Well, the score by relative newcomer Cyrille Aufort is immediately going on my Amazon wish list. When, like with Avatar, the most effective thing about the movie is its score, you know something went very wrong. Natali's Cube was a promising debut. Let's hope Splice is simply a sophomore slump. Splice is rated R for language , gory violence and sexual situations. *1/2 (One and a Half out of Four Stars), for the score, effects and physical acting only. Save your money and wait for it on cable.

*D, bless his heart, likes some pretty bad movies, so you know if he hated it, it's bad.

More, anon.


Anonymous said...

I have to agree with D. When the movie was over, I turned to my friend and said "Was that a really stupid movie or am I just in a bad mood?"

Prospero said...

I thin it must have been the movie that put you in that bad mood, Anonymous. I know it did both of us.