Splice (2009) Or Not To Splice

Splice, the 2009 Sci-Fi horror film directed by Vincenzo Natali who you’ll remember from the inventive and memorable low-budget thriller Cube back in 1999 – you remember Cube, the single location maze where a handful of miss-match pseudo paramilitary types have to fight their way through a series of devolving traps and trickery resulting in nearly none of them leaving.  Natali returns here with a much broader story, a topical tale of the controversial and highly profitable business of DNA research and what happens when unchecked ambition equates to a mutation that, “exceeds their wildest dreams…then threatens to become their worst nightmare.”  It’s not the worst sci-fi horror film in recent memory, there are a plethora of those that come to mind, but one cannot help but make a direct correlation to the not so distant past and the short-lived franchise Species, followed immediately by the aptly named Species II in the mid and late 1990’s.  At least Species had the creature effects from Swiss artist H.R. Giger (who also created the creatures in the Aliens franchise and a body of work much worthy of review for horror/sci-fi fans and fine art aficionados alike).  According to reports, effects supervisor for Splice, Robert Munroe had over 200 hundred pages of notes to work with provided by director Natali that detailed what he envisioned for the evolving look of the creature for the movie.  One thing is for sure, the end result is somewhere between the possibility of a new Alien franchise and another tired, unimaginative Species rip-off that employs high-concept like a can of WD40 for every squeak known to man where low story and predicable character development quickly cools beneath the weight of it’s own precocity.

The most important noteworthy element of Splice is in the attention to character.  This time around we have real actors in Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley, a decent amount of early preparation in their lives and living space, in the particulars of their on-again off again sensuality, yet it all feels too surface, too prototypical background character that you can’t help but realize is going to bite the dust sooner or later.  In this case it is much later but that’s hardly conciliation.  Many have commented on the interesting detail of the creature in this story, the transformational arc or developmental transmutation that takes a cricket like bug, imbalanced on stick like legs and spends far too long manufacturing the next body development which ultimately results in a humanoid that spits and quips and burps and eventually, screws both as a woman-being and then later, not so much so, as a man-being which all seems so convenient as to broadcast in the most base, overt and annoyingly obvious manner that everyone, including the DNA mutation hopes for a sequel.

There is the most briefest of background here, a quick detailing of the super scientist with much larger brains than any of us might ever hope for, the fact that they are what others have called “super scientists” and a suggestion of family and the absent of children but all these details are immediately replaced by plot and the propensity for genre pictures of this nature to move quickly forward and negate any and all hope for back story and personal detail.  I would have given anything to know more about Polley’s character’s connection with the DNA mutation, her choice to use her own DNA in the creation of the monster and then her immutable attachment as though both mother and creator in one.  Adrian Brody is effective but not so much as memorable as efficient like a good broom that sweeps up the dust and detritus and deposits it as advertised.  His talent is obviously wasted in this film.  Find him in master Polanski’s The Pianist or Malick’s The Thin Red Line, in Spike Lee’s Summer of Sam or Darnell Martin’s Cadillac RecordsM. Night Shyamalan’s use of him in The Village is shameful and why more critics haven’t scolded M. Night for it I am uncertain.  Paul Scheuring’s The Experiment is actually a decent film, though limited in scope, and once again shows Brody’s ability to work in confined spaces.  Polley needs no affirmation or condemnation.  She is both an actor and a director – her film Away from Her was powerful and sedate, quiet and brimming with the sort of youthful energy you would hope for from an actress that has delivered time-honored tribute to the quiet intensity of silence one can hardly imagine her contemporary with such hushed honesty.

Splice will appeal to those willing to remain at the surface, to skimmer along ice beds and solids stretches of slick, clear banks of emotionally devoid territory.  Splice will remind us of the power and the glory of experimentation while simultaneously warning that at every turn of the knife, at every utterance of breath into the unknown danger lurks there and the consequences of action outweigh any perceived benefit to the contrary.  Splice will screen in the seconds between now and end credits, it will make you quiver and consider, it will suggest you have things to mull over but in the end it will pass like so many breaths in the night and soon replaced by another film, more or less expansive of the possibilities of tomorrow.

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About rorydean

Rory Dean is a multi-medium artist, writer and new media strategist with a background as a creative consultant and technology liaison in the San Francisco Bay Area. His broad experiences and specialties include print-to-web publicity, promotions and design marketing using traditional and social media networks. As a motion pictures and television professional, his short films, productions and commercials have screened to domestic and international audiences. His connections to a diverse client base include artists, entertainers, corporations, non-profits and everyday people.. Dean is co-owner and founder of Dissave Pictures, a boutique production company focusing on audio, video, photography and multi-media designs. Dean's personal and professional background includes dreaming and avid notebook journaling, creative and copy writing, promotions and marketing, audio/video production, photography, videography, editing, web design and new media. He’s also a fan of collaboration and knows when to turn the reigns over, offer feedback, lead the team and step aside. His portfolio includes print, online, film, video, photography, graphic design and promotions. He’ll show you. He has a book and everything. "When not juggling various online worlds, I do a pretty good mime – but that’s another story."
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9 Responses to Splice (2009) Or Not To Splice

  1. Klaus says:

    I’m willing to forgive a lot when it come to science/horror fiction, but with the obvious talent in this film, I was disappointed with Splice. In addition to the ridiculousness of the increasingly human-like appearance of the creature (’cause who would want to get naked with a stick-legged bug?) – the movie lacked any originality and seemed pretty pointless by the end. I wish I’d read your review before seeing this one.

    • rorydean says:

      I guess I was expecting more because several people I knew gave it so much hype. I heard “best sci-fi horror film in recent memory’ and stuff like that. As I mentioned, I think there were positive things here but everything was jumbled, in the wrong order, or just messed up in one way or another. I hate going into a film with expectations because that is a recipe for failure but I hate it more when you feel the lost potential and watch as an otherwise interesting concept becomes an exercise in plot point story telling telling. Thanks! I felt that way recently with a movie – can’t remember which one, but might have missed it had a read a few more reviews before. Glad I could have helped.

      • Klaus says:

        I felt that way about Inception. I really wanted to like that movie, but left disappointed – considering the hype and the budget of the film.

  2. Tom Baker says:

    Great review but I actually liked the movie. It might be that I didn’t expect that much from the beginning. I thought it would be a Species rip off. I was entertained though and I suppose the one problem I had was the predictable gore towards the end, but it was supposed to be sci-fi horror.

    • rorydean says:

      Thanks Tom — I can see how aficionados of the genre(s) might like this and I totally agree that my level of expectation probably got the best of my screening. I liked the beginning setup, the ‘ordinary world’ and attention to ‘some’ character development just all of that achievement gets lost by the second act and we never fully get back to the character and story – it becomes just about the ‘thing’. Not that this film is even in the remote neighborhood with Carpenter’s The Thing, but the difference and what I see as the more successful use of the ‘thing’ there was that it, along with the people, were actually characters that lived and breathed and had personalities. Sure, they died one by one and inevitably there was a show down, but it’s that balance that was lost in splice. Call it subtlety, I guess. Splice was blunt, here you go, another monster baby that’s going to grow up to be an adult monster and kill everyone. I guess it was just a little boring and by the time we go through the second act, or at least the point of no return, I just didn’t care what happened to the characters or the monster. And the end, boy, didn’t see that coming. But though don’t usually make sequels of movies that fail at the box office – unless you’re Marvel and your darn determined to make people like the Hulk (which they eventually did with Louis Leterrier, Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, and Tim Roth combination.

      I actually didn’t make the Splice-Species connection right away (not sure why, just didn’t). Again, I liked the concept just not the execution.

      I agree, expectations can be a killer and are generally better left outside with the other overpriced concessions.

  3. Rodney says:

    Hmm, I read Al’s review on this over at The Bar None a few months back, and while I still haven’t seen the film, I’m definitely curious to follow anything Adrien Brody puts his name to. The various reviews on Splice have generally been mixed, with the majority thinking it had the potential to be a good little genre film, but failing due to too many elements lifted from other films (hence the similarity to Species) and a lack of genuine emotion in the narrative. Still, i think I’ll give it a shot when it arrives on DVD here in Australia.

    On a completely separate note, I agree wholeheartedly with you re Brody’s performance in The Village, a film that was pretty good for most parts, just not with Brody’s silly character. Shyamalan needs to mea culpa for that effort.

    • rorydean says:

      I’d suggest leaving all expectations at the door. Better yet, smother them in popcorn, a good bottle of pop or stronger, maybe your favorite Halloween size bag of mixed chocolates and candies, and settle in for a surface treatment of an otherwise mediocre sci-fi horror flick. As I wrote, it’s not horrible but when you begin to examine it closer it’s like the glaring problems surface immediately and block out all hopeful and meaningful appreciation for what the filmmakers attempted.

      I applaud the effort but I stick to my original review. I won’t say DON’T see it because hey, that’s what we do. Just come back here and let me know what you think afterwards. The idea of ‘lifting’ from other films didn’t bother me as much as the narrative stumbling over itself – perhaps due exactly for that reason. Oh, don’t get me started on The Village. I hated it. Actually hate is too strong a word – that suggests a semblance of emotion. I found it about as unrewarding as trying to watch a movie that doesn’t come in clearly because you’re using an antennae and it’s windy and it’s an Italian film and you can’t read the subtitles. No really.

  4. A. J. says:

    Thanks for the heads up. I’m not a huge sci-fi horror fan (despite The Thing being one of my favourite movies of all time) so I might take a pass on this one. Never saw Cube either what’s your verdict on that? By the by, isn’t Species II part of the Species franchise? 🙂

    • rorydean says:

      Hey A.J., Glad you found the review interesting and helpful. I’d say go back to John Carpenter’s The Thing. Even 30 Days of Night was a vast improvement, though obviously a different movie. Watch Near Dark, again a vampire flick but much worthy of a screening. I’d also say the original Species was handled better, if not still a little heavy handed. I have yet to find a genre blender of this nature (outside Alien(s)) of course that has been anywhere near as successful.

      Everyone wants to make a great gene splicing movie but I don’t think it has happened yet.

      Cube is very watchable. It gets a little redundant but I’d recommend it but you have to come back here and tell me what you think. The beauty of the film is in the simplicity, the economy of location and character and effects. Refreshing to watch a real ‘low budget’ film that is actually entertaining.

      And yes, Species I and II

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