- Rated R
- Buy the Blu-ray
All photos © Warner Bros.
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
est known for the 1997 cult film, “Cube,” Canadian director Vincenzo Natali has spent the better part of the last decade trying to break into Hollywood as the next great sci-fi maestro. He took a big step forward this year at Sundance when he premiered his new film, “Splice,” but even though it ignited a bidding war among major studios, the genre flick is going to have a hard time finding an audience. One part morality tale and one part creature feature, “Splice” starts strong, only to gradually devolve into the very thing that Natali tries to avoid it becoming: a generic monster movie.
Clive Nicoli (Adrien Brody) and Elsa Kast (Sarah Polley) are superstar biochemists who’ve successfully spliced the DNA of different animals and plants to create a new species capable of synthesizing proteins for cattle. Anxious to take it to the next level by adding human DNA into the mix, the pair is immediately shot down by their boss (David Hewlett), who fears the moral repercussions that come with the territory. That doesn’t stop Elsa, however, who convinces Clive to scratch their curious itch and see if it’s even possible, promising to abort the experiment before the embryo comes to term. When it begins growing quicker than predicted and an alien-like life form emerges, Elsa decides to keep it alive to study as it evolves into a full-grown humanoid with cognitive abilities and a dangerous defense mechanism. But as Elsa and Clive try to keep their experiment a secret, they discover that nothing good ever comes out of playing God.
Of course, while the humanoid (named Dren and played by French actress Delphine Chanéac) is treated as a monster, the film not so subtlety suggests that it’s the scientists who are the real monsters. It’s a story that’s been told several times before – perhaps most famously in Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” – but Natali puts his own twisted spin on the tale that ensures a few surprises along the way. The director clearly knows his horror movies, too, because while “Splice” most closely resembles Shelley's classic novel, there are also hints of “The Fly,” “Rosemary’s Baby,” and yes, even “Species.” Chanéac is certainly no Natasha Henstridge (at least, not under all that makeup and special effects), but she brings a real innocence to Dren while still remaining menacing. Polley and Brody are also solid as the geneticists responsible for the creation, earning the audience’s compassion even though they don’t deserve it.
For an independent film, “Splice” looks incredible. The visuals are slick and the special effects are on par with any Hollywood blockbuster. Where the movie falters is in its final act. While it does have moments of humor throughout, some of the events that transpire during the last 20 minutes are a bit ridiculous, sending waves of nervous laughter throughout the audience. Natali definitely crosses some boundaries that many people won't agree with, but when it comes to science, isn’t that the point? Well, yes, but one particular plot development takes things a little too far. Fortunately, it happens so late in the game that it doesn’t completely ruin the experience, because despite a few hiccups, “Splice” is a mostly successful cautionary tale that – along with last year’s “District 9” and “Moon” – proves the sci-fi genre is at its best when the story trumps the spectacle.