Monday, 16 August 2010

Film Review: Splice

Now Cube was a lot of things, back in 1997: smart, creepy, fun and inventive. Clearly, it was a huge influence on Saw and its rather more extreme ilk. It gave a formative generation of SF fans something more stirring than dreary latter-day Star Trek spin-offs to root for. All that, and we got writer/director Vincenzo Natali into the bargain. But let's be perfectly frank. Cube was not... how shall I put this? Cube was not a terribly sophisticated film. Its charming successor, the criminally unloved Cypher, comes off better in that respect, though to be blunt, beyond its slick looks and Lucy Liu, it didn't truly have much going on under the bonnet either. And the less said about Nothing, a concept and little else besides, the better.

Yet through it all, the sense that Vincenzo Natali was capable of great things persisted. Given a more generous budget, perhaps, he would make his magnum opus; given a great script, or a better cast, or a story that could sustain itself from start to finish rather than fizzling out like a sparkler past its prime, Natali could - and surely would - come into his own.

Well, he's had seven years to mull over his next move, and Splice sure sounded like it could be all that Natali devotees had hoped for. With an award-winning cast, a plot synopsis positively laden with potential - not to mention cultural currency - better and cheaper effects technology, Splice could have been this year's surprise cult smash.

Could have been, I said.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves. Splice is the cautionary tale of two scientists who take the leap that's been on everyone's lips of late. Clive and Elsa are childless lovers who earn their keep manipulating genetics for the eventual betterment of mankind. When the pharmaceutical company who funds their research threatens to shut them down in order to proactively mollify a tabloid outrage, Clive and Elsa do not go quietly into the great goodnight. In an ill-considered push for the summit before everything falls apart, they run one last experiment: they splice human DNA with that of the medical monsters they have been creating in the erstwhile.

And it takes. Against all odds, the strands of DNA knit together and a new life form is born. Dren awakens to the world very rudely, and her gruesome birth from the viscera of an artificial womb following an impromptu right to life debate very much sets the tone for all Splice has to offer: blood spatter and an array of join-the-dots moral quandaries. Oh, a hot monster, because Dren, you see, ages at a conveniently accelerated rate. Because of... something.

Natali clearly hopes to have it both ways. He means to ask the Big Questions - to tackle the philosophical and psychological implications of human cloning, nature/nurture, child abuse, the breakdown of relationship - and in between times, to give lowbrow genre junkies their daily bread: sex, violence, violent sex and sexualised violence. What he ends up doing is shoehorning every notion he can conceive of in without giving any single one the time or distance to establish its place, its pathos. At least he has the good grace to punctuate each would-be ambiguity with some hearty dismemberment.

Splice has its moments, I do not deny, but what little beauty Natali's damp squib of a return to cinema can lay claim to is only ever skin deep. Dren is, in and of herself, a brilliant creation. A cleverly conceived and carefully crafted concept brought to life by a combination of impressive Giger-esque CG and prosthetics, and Delphine Chanéac, who dances as the disarmingly alluring young woman Dren becomes (that is when she's not killing cats). Chanéac is superb - she put me in mind of the creepy nurses from Silent Hill, and she's singularly the best thing in Splice.

Which is something of a surprise, given the presence of award-winning luminaries Adrian Brody and Sarah Polley. Sadly, there's an absolute lack of chemistry between them. I'll grant that they bring a certain sense of gravitas to the increasingly outrageous proceedings, and maybe that would have been a good thing if Splice had been half so profound as it wishes it were, but it's not: it's too self-serious, in fact, for its own good. That just doesn't play when you're making a movie that culminates in an encounter that can only hope to recall Species. I mean... Species. You can do better, Vincenzo Natali.


  1. I think I saw somewhere that they *may* have something to do with the filmed version of Gibson's Neuromancer...

    Yeah, bit disappointed by this film. Bits of it also reminded me of Cronenberg's earlier bodyshock stuff. 'Cept not so good.


  2. I loved Cube & still re-watch my copy relatively often. When I read your review I was disappointed but not surprised. I'll wait until Splice hits the mainstream stores & then I will watch it. Thanks for the heads up!