Movie Review: Splice

Human animal hybrid in a dress

Here is a film with something for everyone – the sharp knocking of morality at the door juxtaposed against highly advanced (and quite possibly credible) genetic hybrid engineering, with some extensively creepy basic elements of incestuous Greek tragedy linking it all together. Throw in some truly extraordinary special effects (check out the Government designed slimy vein-sacks containing said proteins) that make Cronenberg in his heyday look like Playschool, and you’ve got an uneven, but oddly compelling film.

Despite its obvious leanings towards the genre, Splice is not easily pidgeonholed as a horror film, and as such, an expectation of gore, violence and good versus evil will seriously hamper your enjoyment. Instead, Cube director Vincenzo Natali has taken an idea that has addictive qualities for the science geek in us all, and added human emotion, a layer even more unpredictable than mutating spliced cells.

Sarah Polley and Adrian Brody are scientists Elsa and Clive, a couple whose work – creating genetic hybrids by splicing animal BNA to synthesise proteins for chemical research purposes – leads them down a darker, even more morally ambiguous route. Elsa, whose disturbing childhood is alluded to on several occasions, appears to be uninterested in having children but, in an unconvincingly naive way, creates Dren, the result of a daring and unauthorised animal/human splicing. Clive, the weaker of the two (played with convincing drippiness by Brody), goes along with the experiment.

A horse legged, three fingered, bald legged child with a prehensile tail growing at a rapidly accelerated rate, able to spell out the word “tedious” in scrabble tiles, and purportedly serious scientist Elsa has her running around in a blue puffed sleeves dress, watching her with a simpering look of thwarted motherhood in her tear brimmed eyes? Leaving this blatant stab-in-the-back to feminism aside, this would be the point one might expect the horror to kick in. Instead, this odd, but always interesting low budget film relies on the string performances of its three excellent leads to hold together what is essentially a live action Parenting for Beginners: How to Rear Your Human/Animal Hybrid and not Piss it Off So Much it Murders You.

Which is not to say it isn’t disturbing, though the dialogue is at times, simply ridiculous and the morality questions posed, in Brody’s trademark husky tones, far too obvious. But rather than a simple case of great SFX and an out of control freakshow, you have some tender coming of age moments that sit uncomfortably with notions of good, evil and whether progress for the sake of progress isn’t a two pronged salvo of eternal moral torment.

The big showdown, when it comes, is a disappointment. But on reflection, that’s probably because the determination to get there overshadows the moral ambiguity of human decisions which is, as in life, where the real horror lies.

Andrea Hubert