Splice is gross but refreshing. Put that on a poster, Warner Brothers! It’s refreshing because it’s a movie that makes you think. It grabs you by the collar and pulls you uncomfortably close and demands that you use your damn brain. It’s actually comical that a movie this thoughtful and challenging is opening against Marmaduke and yet another Ashton Kutchy mediocrity.
As an uncommonly intelligent horror film, Splice has little to no chance at the box office, but whether or not it pulls out a surprise victory, its makers can rest assured knowing that they put out a movie that will have people thinking and talking long after the numbers are crunched.
Now listen up, because I want you to see this movie, but I don’t want you to say I didn’t warn you: Be very careful with the choice of snacks you take when going to see Splice this weekend. I’m not at all a squeamish kind of guy, but even I was secretly glad that I didn’t bring anything meatier than popcorn into the screening I attended.
Splice is a sparse story with only a couple of primary players. The recognizable (and very brave) pair of actors who play the movie’s protagonists are Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley. These two deserve a massive amount of credit for willing to play characters, not just being concerned about being likable, and of course director Vincenzo Natali and his co-writers deserve credit too, for writing them that way. The couple end up engaging in some abhorrent behavior as the story progresses (or descends, as the case may be), but they actually begin the movie as arrogant hipster-douchebags. They’re really not that sympathetic as people – we’re only interested in following them because the story and the actors are so compelling.
Brody and Polley play Clive and Elsa (and all the Bride Of Frankenstein references that that implies), two young geneticists who, for the purposes of curing diseases by synthesizing key proteins, have literally managed to create life, in the form of a pair of two creatures that look like a cross between the biggest caterpillar you’ve ever seen and Ron Jeremy’s dick. Sorry if that’s crass, but I do believe the penile resemblance is intentional.
That’s not the gross part, by the way. We haven’t even gotten there yet.
Clive and Elsa are into the habit of giving their experiments cutesy couple names, so the latest pair of schlonger-slugs (all of the previous test cases have not survived) are named Fred and Ginger. Fred and Ginger are introduced to each other, and they mate.
Still not the gross part.
After the deed is done, there is a product of the union – a dirt-colored fleshbag that looks like a cross between a human liver and a placenta. At first, Clive and Elsa think that this is the “baby” – and why wouldn’t they, based on how weird the parents look? – but it’s not. It’s just the cocoon, and we’ll get to what comes out in a second.
Meanwhile, Clive and Elsa present Fred and Ginger to a roomful of suits, making a grand speech about Adam and Eve and the miracle of life. Only by this point Ginger has metamorphosized into a male, and like that scene in Trainspotting when Begbie finds out that he’s been making out with a tranny, Fred goes apeshit and attacks Ginger. They both gore each other to death in a rain of grue. Clive and Elsa have failed, publicly, and the roomful of investors wind up with egg on their face. And by “egg,” I mean “alien blood and viscera.”
Believe it or not, we’re still working towards the gross part.
Clive and Elsa mean to destroy every trace of Fred and Ginger, but the thing that was inside the cocoon has escaped. We seem to be in familiar cinematic territory, and could sure use Sigourney Weaver right about now. But when Clive and Elsa finally encounter the creature, it turns out to be bizarrely adorable. It’s like a cross between a baby sea lion and The Pale Man from Pan’s Labyrinth. The creature effects by genius monster-maker Howard Berger and his crew are truly remarkable – legitimately original and thoroughly believable.
Almost immediately, Elsa’s maternal instinct kicks in, and as the creature rapidly matures from infancy to toddlerhood, Clive’s initial impulse to destroy the creature softens into a similar patriarchal role. The creature starts looking more and more like a little girl, albeit a little girl who looks like a cross between Michael Berryman and, um, Sigourney Weaver in Alien 3. (Did you notice that I’m crossing a lot of things with other things in this review? It’s on purpose. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups are awesome, by the way.) Elsa names the little mutant “Dren,” which is “Nerd” spelled backwards, which is more than a little annoying.
See, that’s a clue: Elsa and Clive are just about the worst parents in the world. She’s so wrapped up in her own twisted thinking, and he’s so willing to accommodate her, that they both end up making a series of spectacularly bad decisions which prove calamitous as Dren rapidly cycles into her rebellious teenage phase. I will reveal no more (I’ve only really covered the first half hour or less here), but let’s just say that it turns out to be very dangerous to be an inferior role model to a genetic mutant.
That’s the gross part, by the way.
Unlike 90% of modern horror films, yet much like many of the truly memorable ones, Splice is a movie that’s about something. What that something is, already seems to be open to interpretation. Some people will look at the story as a classical cautionary tale of man messing with nature. Some people will see it as the straight-up Frankenstein update that it clearly is, in many ways. Some people will see it as a grand return to the psycho-sexual body horror of early Cronenberg. (It’s true – Splice reminds me of no movie so much as Cronenberg’s The Fly.) And all of those takes are completely valid.
My own take? It’s an allegory for bad parenting. As the planet’s rapidly growing overpopulation problem shows, too many people rush into parenting without considering the realities and the responsibilities involved. If you want to create a whole new human being, you might want to go into that with a little preparation and forethought. If you don’t, things can go very bad very fast.
That’s one way to look at it. There are many. Of course, for the squeamish among us, the only way to look at Splice will be through the fingers of your hands covering your face in disgust. That’s cool too – when was the last time a new horror movie did that for you?