Playing God is generally frowned upon. Whether it’s the raised eyebrows of the neighbours, or the total annihilation of the planet, in movies the outcome is fairly consistently never beneficial, no matter how noble the intention. So it is with Splice, the gloopy bio-horror from Cube director, Vincenzo Natali. While searching for a new protein that can fight disease and secure vast wealth for their shadowy, but oddly low on security bio-engineering company, rockstar bio-chemists Sarah Polley and Adrien Brody set about creating a new life form, a splice of animal and human DNA. And wouldn't you know it, things don’t go to plan, but where they do go will have you choking on your popcorn in this brilliant B-movie with brains.
So yes, rockstar bio-chemists. Don’t tend to see a lot of them on the whole, but then this wacky couple aren't your average white coat nerds, and with their bijou apartment, covered in Japanese manga and toys, and sporting a neat line in achingly hip outfits, these two are well deserving of their Rolling Stone Magazine cover. But behind closed doors, all is not well. Sarah has parent issues in a back story of abuse only hinted at and Adrien is alone in wanting to expand their family. Things aren't all rosy at work either – after a major breakthrough in creating a pair of “new” creatures – Fred and Ginger – the pair are ordered to start harvesting the slug-like monsters so they can actually start making some money out of them. But these cute little balls of fat are a mere precursor to the potential the tech keeps hidden. Polley is convinced to include human DNA in the splice is the key to ending all major disease, but of course this would be playing God slightly more than just using lots of animals to make blobby beanbags, and so their French paymaster gives ‘em a slap with no dinner, and says a firm ‘non’.
Undeterred, and rather naughtily, the ker-azy pair set about their task in secret. After some good ol' fashioned montage of the many, many failed attempts, a breakthrough, hurrah, a successful genetic cocktail of animal and human DNA is developed over Chinese takeaway. But what’s this, to Brody’s ineffective whining, Polley runs off with the goop and actually injects it into the company’s mecha-womb – “don’t you want to be sure we've done it?” she opines – Broody Brody, shrugs - ok , wasn't doing anything else this weekend anyway.
And so the thing grows, and things kick off proper. From the moment of it’s birth, ‘Splice’ is rather more forthcoming about its intentions - this is pure, if not simple horror. Initially a purely cgi creation, the creature at first resembles some kind of hairless monkey bird, terrified and cute it hooks you in with its sweet little face – some might say, I would have stamped on it. But as the movie progresses and Dren as she is named, grows to maturity, things get increasingly disturbing. As soon as she’s given a little dress and starts to resemble a little girl, a feeling in the pit of your stomach grows suggesting the wrong-ness that’s coming. Polley and Brody attempt to keep up the pretence of scientific study, but we and they know, this is their baby that never was.
Of course, if you’re going to play god, much like playing with fire, you’re going to get some kind of injury. And so it follows. As Dren grows up she becomes increasingly more difficult to hide from the rest of the company (precisely why no one ever visits the lab upstairs is somewhat of a mystery) so the little scamp is relocated, first to the basement, then Polley’s childhood farm, aptly the site of her own torment. Dren grows up and out, and displays remarkable cognitive ability, and a rather less laudable interest in Brody. Increasingly restless and curious about the outside world and its inhabitants, she become increasingly rebellious and rude to her parents, just like a typical teenager really. Lest we forget she’s bred from various animal DNA her fast athletic grace and deadly tail stinger frequently remind us we need to be rather more scared of Dren than her would be parents are. Needless to say things don’t go well, especially for the cat.
Don’t expect a Species clone – this is no monster slasher flick – much more is the focus on the personal relationship aspects, and the moral implications of their actions – so cavalier are they towards the creation of life that they bear the full weight of the consequences when things do inevitably go south. There are some lovely moments – so unpredictable is the creature and its motives, we spend much of the film in a cold sweat at what might happen – and when some things do actually happen, they are so unthinkable you wont know whether to laugh or scream- one in particular is so cringe worthy, it must rank as the most awkward moment in cinema – in a good way. At other times, possibly in a bid to make up for a perceived slow pace, Natali rather over eggs the pudding – one episode during a press conference is so over the top I initially thought it must be a dream sequence – but no, there’s fallout, it actually happens. The final act is also a little wobbly – David Hewlett's ineffective boss character is such a pushover he doesn't feel convincing, and Dren herself in her final incarnation feels somewhat wasted, although the grisly dénouement is satisfyingly disturbing.
Missteps aside, the overall tone of Splice is near pitch perfect – it gives you the creeping fears as many competing niggles and worries are thrown into the mix and spliced together – fear of the unknown, of science, that some mad corporation is in all likelihood doing this as we speak – but on a personal level there’s the angst of raising children and how as offshoots of our makeup we’re directly responsible for their development and actions. The acting is top notch throughout, Brody in particular wringing convincing emotion from his wuss-bag character, he needs do some serious acting to sell some of his actions, which amazingly, he does! The creature itself is also a remarkable piece of work, rarely less than utterly convincing, it’s a real achievement of live action, makeup and cgi effect that as a whole is deeply unsettling - Delphine Chaneac delivers a chilling turn as the matured creature, as unpredictable and schizophrenic as your evil pet cat.
Splice remains firmly in the b-movie camp of course, it wont be picking up any Palme D'ors any time soon, but as schlocky monsteriffic entertainment, you could do a lot worse. Full of wrong-ness and unspeakable taboos, this is a damning indictment against science and indeed, having children! If you were erring on the whole pro-creation thing, Splice may put you off parenthood for good.
3 out of 5
3 out of 5
What's the worst that could happen?