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 Records. M. 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.