Vincenzo Natali may be insane. In the best possible way. The director of Cube, which premiered at Sundance in 1997, returned to Park City with his new movie, Splice, which has been many, many years in the making. A movie that begins with a tone of ‘kind of nuts’ and quickly shifts gears into ‘utterly out of fucking control,’ Splice is not a perfect film but one that any CHUD reader simply has to respect.
Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley are married genetic engineers who happen to be utter rock stars in their field. They’re on the cover of Wired, they dress like punks, they blast metal in their lab and they get to do whatever they want as long as the pharmaceutical company who funds them keeps seeing results. The latest result: Fred and Ginger, the world’s first bioengineered new life forms. They look more of less like penis slugs, and they’re a cornucopia of chemicals that can change the world.
When the pharmaceutical company wants to change directions the two scientists (Clive and Elsa, delightful references to the Universal Frankenstein movies) decide to forge ahead in secret. They’ve already perfected splicing together animal genes, and now they want to move to the next step: humans. The result, a creature they call Dren, rapidly goes through multiple stages of a lifecycle and continues to evolve from a weird slug to a little beastie that reminded me of the Isz from The Maxx to a more humanoid shape that quickly grows into a strangely beautiful woman. Woman-thing, really.
The character of Dren is a triumph. Using subtle CGI manipulation to play with the geography of French actress Delphine Chaneac’s face (as well as to modify other parts of her body, like her legs and hands), Natali’s FX crews do what mocap creatures never will: allow the reality of the actor to co-exist with the weirdness of the creature. This, more than full pixelization, feels like the next step up from physical prosthetics. Chaneac’s face is right there, and not recreated in pixels but actually there. It gives Dren a life that no CGI creation has ever had.
The trickiest thing in Splice isn’t the creature design and FX but rather the tone. Someone described it to me as in the vein of Re-Animator, and I would agree to an extent. Splice is less obviously jokey than Re-Animator, but it does go large, and it goes large with gusto. I don’t know that any of the choices the characters make actually make real world sense, but they all lead to wonderful things, and to an ending that keeps going places I didn’t think it would. Natali and his team of co-writers certainly didn’t feel the need to every play it safe.
Brody and Polley get the tone, and they go for it. Brody especially embraces it, which is the only way for him to get through some of the third act business when the movie gets extremely weird. Natali isn’t just exploring gene splicing through the lens of scifi-horror, he’s examining it through the lens of procreation. Natali is interested in how we deal with our offspring, whether naturally born or lab-grown, and how our own upbringing impacts that. A genetically engineered life form won’t be the next leap, he’s saying, it’ll be just the next turn in a cycle of abuse that has gone on for generations.
There are a lot of problems with Splice; for a movie that had been in development for so long the script felt slightly half-baked, and the odd tone of the film means you either go with it right from the start when Adrien Brody looks like he just stepped off stage at a Hong Kong Cavaliers show or you’ll be totally lost. If you can get in, the film is exceptionally rewarding with strangeness and cool creatures and a lingering aura of simple madness. Splice is exactly the kind of movie I keep waiting to see: strange, over the top, cool, thoughtful, monster-filled and just plain crazy.
8 out of 10