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Splice movie review

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Posted by: Dan Liebman

Review Rating 7.0 Good

Among the hordes of aliens and robots, the true essence of science fiction is often lost among modern Hollywood blockbusters. Interestingly, the acclaimed Splice is not the product of massive Hollywood influence. Splice actually made its debut last year, but did not see widespread distribution until June of 2010. Rather than a fumbling cautionary tale about genetic engineering, the film weaves personal interests with unsteady ethics into a fabric that seems almost beautiful – at least from the right angle, in certain lighting conditions.

The tale begins with a somewhat laughable introduction to a pair of biochemists, Clive and Elsa. Screen favorite Adrien Brody plays Clive, who spends most of his time looking conflicted and lost. His partner in matters of love and science, Elsa, is played by Sarah Polley. She is the more hotheaded of the two, and plays something of a devil to Brody’s angel. Using the latest technology in genetic manipulation (none of which would hold up to a modicum of scrutiny by an actual scientist), the couple earns celebrity renown for their freakish creations, which look strangely amorphous despite incorporating so many “familiar” animals. The corporate backers for their work grow impatient, however; they wish to synthesize the all-important proteins which will cure countless diseases. Fed up with the constraints of their financial backers, Clive and Elsa start a clandestine project to incorporate human DNA in their experiments.

Whether audiences are really stupid enough to buy into the mindless montage setup isn’t important. What does matter is the fruit of their labors: a noisy little creature resembling a bald, bipedal hamster. The creation is named “Dren” by Elsa, the first of many efforts to humanize the subject, despite Clive’s repetitive and feeble protests. As the creature develops – at an unnatural rate, of course – she takes on a more humanoid appearance. Despite her appearance and abilities, it is the human component of Dren that makes her all the more disturbing (though her sudden, swift movements will give many viewers cause to squirm). Blossoming into wall-eyed sexual being, the ever-evolving she-creature shakes things up considerably, as Clive and Elsa struggle to conceal their superhuman science project. Splice could be applauded for its ability to poke fun at role confusion, the notion that we must juggle our positions as the leader and the follower, the friend and the lover, the parent and the child.

The visual effects may not reach the apex of CGI greats like ILM, but they are mostly convincing. Clever use of prosthetics actually allow Delphine Chanéac to deliver a truly haunting performance as Dren, who is arguably the most sympathetic character to be seen. Fans of Del Toro’s handiwork will recognize the striking interplay of humanity and inhumanity, both within the story and the creature itself. Without giving too much away, Dren’s final stages of development resemble something from a Renaissance painting, more beautiful than terrifying. In fact, one wonders if Splice is being too heavily marketed as a monster-horror film; it is creepy and laughably shocking, but not exactly scary in the brutish sense.

Unfortunately, the rich and graphic tragedy appears to be sandwiched between two other stories. The film’s closing is disappointingly predictable, due in no small part to superfluous foreshadowing. The first act is the longer, more troubling component. The awkward introduction and interaction between Clive and Elsa does little to entertain or entice, and the flashy process by which they operate is utterly ridiculous. That Dren should seem so believable despite the absurd circumstances of her creation only serves to befuddle – perhaps it is intended to be some kind of meta-joke. Thankfully, much of the setup is forgotten once you’re firmly engrossed in the middle of the film. Despite these issues, I would still recommend Splice to genre junkies – it’s the first real sci-fi film of 2010.

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