STARRING: Adrien Brody, Sarah Polley,
2009, 104 Minutes, Directed by:
person cannot choose his or her parents, and a laboratory-born genetic hybrid
can't choose its creators. That is the existential dilemma faced by the lab test
turned emotionally battered creature of Splice . . .
She starts off as a slimy
little section with a tail, hatches into a freaky but cuddly little bounding
ball of pink flesh, and quickly grows into a digitally altered actress with a
bald head, eyes too far apart, tail with a stinger, and legs that bend inward.
Somewhere along the way, she becomes a psychological mess, too.
This is the movie's most
fascinating turn, which makes monsters of its heroes while leaving its literal
monster the victim of their hubris and need to control. They never call
themselves the creature's parents, but after she has a hissy fit, leading one of
them to tie her to an impromptu operating table for punishment, the point is
pretty clear. Here's one for the nurture argument, a specimen that goes amuck
after inadequate parenting by a couple of scientists who have their own issues.
The scientists are Clive (Adrien
Brody) and Elsa (Sarah Polley). They are working on creating new species by
splicing others together. Their most recent results are a pair of pods that
could result in new proteins to aid in the fight against diseases.
They want to move forward with
their research but are cut short by the company funding the work. In spite of
the legal ramifications, Clive and Elsa decide to test their first design again
but with human DNA in the mix.
The subject's growth is faster
than anticipated, and suddenly, the two are confronted with the challenge of
raising this new creature on their own and hiding it from the world.
"Splice boasts an intriguing premise, but is sadly let down by
a rote conclusion . . ."
The script tosses aside the
obvious ethical question of whether or not using human DNA in creating a new
species is right with the sound logic that the possible advances in disease
treatment outweighs moral outrage. In its place is the next step in the
quandary—one of responsibility.
Dren (Abigail Chu as a child
and Delphine Chanéac as an adult), as the new animal is named, is rapidly aging,
learning with astounding quickness, and apparently conscious of her existence.
Clive wants to destroy it even before its artificial birth, attempting to gas
her and drown her on two separate occasions. Elsa's maternal instincts get in
the way the first time, and an oversight on Dren's anatomical structure foils
him the second. Turns out Dren has amphibious lungs. And she sprouts wings after
her parents refuse to let her outside.
Elsa immediately treats Dren as
a child, dressing her, giving her old dolls, and teaching her how to put on
makeup (Elsa tells Dren she remembers what it was like to be that age, "that
age" being a relative comparison). Clive tells his wife that she's treating
their experiment like a pet, after a long, considering pause, unsure whether to
say "child" as he's obviously thinking. Clive wants to have a baby, but Elsa
isn't ready. Dren, he tells her later on, is her way of having a kid without the
uncertainty. It's an experiment to control.
is also a way for Elsa to work out and project issues she had with her own
mother. The little information screenwriters Antoinette Terry Bryant, Doug
Taylor, and director Vincenzo Natali (Cube) offer about
Elsa's childhood is enough.
When Clive and Elsa's secret
comes closer to being discovered, they bring Dren to Elsa's childhood farm home,
where Elsa can be reminded of her troubled upbringing and inflict the same kind
of emotional damage on her "daughter," all in the name of science.
The movie holds true to its
ethical setup until and through this part. It however falls apart in the
follow-through. Without his own parental problems with which to deal, Clive
switches gears from outright hate to uncomfortable love, as Dren is conveniently
human in certain anatomical facets. The third act relies on a sudden, overtly
foreshadowed shift in Dren (the scene that sets it up, a shareholders meeting
that goes horribly, bloodily awry, is quite funny).
That change in Dren negates the
movie's initial argument, turning her into a monster of her own nature. The
script drops its moral explorations and turns into a typical horror-style hunt
sequence (plopping on a useless coda which only adds the ironic note that Clive
and Elsa might not have needed to be so secretive).
The let-down of the finale of
Splice is amplified by the intrigue of its premise. With such ambitions,
it deserves more than such a rote conclusion.
- Mark Dujsik