Director: Vincenzo Natali
Screenwriters: Vincenzo Natali, Antoinette Terry Bryant, Doug Taylor
Cast: Adrien Brody, Sarah Polley, Delphine Chanéac
Distributor: Optimum Releasing
Running Time: 104 mins
Can science ever be used for good, or will it always lead us down a perilous path that teaches us that we really should be careful messing around with things we don’t understand? According to Vincenzo Natali’s sci-fi horror Splice, the answer is an icky, sticky, squirming vote for the latter.
Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley’s biochemists Clive and Elsa, while working on gene-splicing a new creature with which medical advancements can be made, decide to abandon their scientific code of honour and plough ahead in a direction strictly prohibited by their financiers. After ‘designing’ a new slug-alike creature, the first two they name Fred and Ginger, they opt to see what happens when human DNA is thrown into the mix. The result? Dren, a monstrous abomination with accelerated ageing that’s birthed an insect-human crossbreed that proceeds to grow ever more human by the day. Try keeping that little secret under wraps.
Director and co-writer Natali (Cube, Cypher)’s tale of science gone wrong – a disastrous industry ‘show and tell’ moment descends into a blood-splattered catastrophe – is, much like its genetically engineered creation, sadly somewhat of a hybrid. It begins a restrained, atmospheric thriller, focusing on the human emotions that underpin Clive and Elsa’s pioneering ‘work’, but steers increasingly towards Cronenberg-esque shape-shifting, body-horror before winding up a ‘monster on the loose’ cliché. These disparate elements, much like Dren’s hotchpotch DNA, just never mesh.
That said, Natali initially builds tension and suspense well, the film is shot through with a clinical and stylised, if unremarkable, design, and the creature itself is well realised too. CG and make-up effects portray its early stages and Chanéac’s performance as the grown up Dren captures the human element of its test-tube-origins. However, a sagging mid-section stalls things, and not one but two inter-species carnal entanglements raise unwanted titters. Elsa’s murky past and strained relationship with her mother, too, is never fully explored and so robs her increasingly maternal instincts towards her lab-engineered ‘baby’ of any real emotional poignancy. As a creature feature thriller it works, and there are a number of inventive moments, but Natali doesn’t get under the mutated skin, of man or monster, to offer anything meatier.
The creature’s impressive, but unintentional giggles and undeveloped characters mar this otherwise fine, if hybridised, horror.