Review by Jack Foley
VINCENZO Natali is one of Hollywood’s most consistently under-rated filmmakers, following the little-seen but critically-acclaimed likes of Cube and Cypher.
Splice is another excellent entry on his CV, a superior creature feature that has the intelligence to back its ‘yuk’ factor, and which comes with the backing of Guillermo Del Toro (who produces).
Essentially a morality tale with contemporary resonance, Splice follows pioneering genetic engineers Elsa (Sarah Polley) and Clive (Adrien Brody) as they successfully create their own life form by splicing together the materials from several animals, including a human being.
The creation in question, nicknamed Dren (and played by Delphine Chanéac), subsequently grows at an increased rate and tests the parenting skills of its creator… enabling them to make discoveries all the time, while raising demons from their own past.
Hence, as Dren matures and becomes more and more intelligent (and sexual), Elsa and Clive’s loyalty to each other is put to the test as their secret experiment threatens to run amok.
Essentially an update of the Frankenstein legend told within the exaggerated parameters of modern science, Splice is nevertheless a fun ride that boasts excellent performances, intelligent moral and ethical questions and enough gore and David Cronenberg inspired splatter to keep genre fans satisfied.
Yet crucially, it’s on the intellectual side that Natali’s film works best, tapping into issues of cloning, parental and sexual abuse, and corporate greed that are both thought-provoking and likely to inspire furious debate afterwards.
His screenplay also plays to the strengths of both Brody and Polley, who revel in the complexity of their characters, as well as having fun with some of the more outlandish elements, while the excellent Chanéac invests Dren with both child-like innocence and adolescent rebelliousness.
Natali’s decision to employ an actress in the role, rather than having Dren become an effects-only creation, adds more soul, pulling viewers in all kinds of directions and she is, by turns, loved, exploited and eventually turns the tables on her warped family.
And therein lies another of Splice’s many strengths: its ability to keep viewers guessing with several neat twists that never allow proceedings to flag.
The effects, too, are suitably impressive to illicit a “how did they do that?” type of response, while several highly ‘icky’ moments add to the creepy fun, and are deliberately designed to leave viewers squirming in their seats.
If the finale does tend to become a little OTT, and the final twist is a little too easily signposted, Natali can be forgiven for Splice is – for the majority of the time – a vastly superior genre entry that offers an embarrassment of riches for anyone willing to take its often thrilling ride.
Running time: 104mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: Novembr 29, 2010