“Splice,” starring Adrien Brody as the semi-mad scientist, looked good in preview trailers, and it does not disappoint. It was not surprising to see that Guillermo del Torro and Joel Silver were 2 of the 4 producers. Del Torro, in particular, always has a wonderful visual feeling in his films, as with his Oscar-nominated 2006 film “Pan’s Labyrinth,” and his name, like that of Director Tim Burton, signals something that is going to be exceedingly cool visually.
Forty-one-year-old Director Vincenzo Natali, was the storyboard artist for a lot of impressive films, going all the way back to 1991’s “Beetlejuice” before stepping up to direct back around 2000. Natali wrote and directed “Cube” in 1997, and he has done double-duty as writer and director on “Splice,” as well.
The film opens with some heartbeat noises and there is a birth scene that is pretty impressive. The director also seems to have a sense of humor, as the secret lab where Dr. Frankenstein-like attempts to create new life are taking place is labeled NERD, standing for “Nucleic Experimental Research Development.”
In this lab lovers Sarah Polley as Elsa and Adrien Brody as Clive have created some disgusting-looking critters that are being bred to give off valuable proteins and enzymes that will reap rewards for the drug company funding their efforts. The creatures look like nothing so much as male genitalia that have learned to move around inside a cage. The two gung-ho scientists, who are portrayed as hot shots in their field, are to give a big presentation in front of their colleagues, which goes about as well as the King Kong stage scene in that classic monster movie. (“Don’t worry, Folks. He can’t escape.”) We expect disaster and we get it, because the cloned creatures have changed sex from female to male, meaning a critter-a-critter bloody fight to the death onstage, in front of thousands of their scientific colleagues. Embarrassing…and bloody. And, additionally, the two scientists are no longer such hotshots and their lab is in danger of imminent shutdown.
But Elsa (Sarah Polley), who seems ambivalent about giving birth herself after 7 years together as a couple, does want to try to clone a creature that is a little bit of this and a little bit of that: part human, part bird, part amphibian, part reptile, etc. The kicker is that Elsa provides her own DNA so that the lab serves as a surrogate mother for the diabolical experiment that Clive (Adrien Brodey) is opposed to from the start.
“Don’t worry,” Elsa reassures him. “We won’t take it to term. We just will know if we can generate a sustainable life form.” And there is always Elsa’s line, “What’s the worst that can happen?” We’re going to find out. And it’s an intensely graphic violent adventure that combines discussions about morality with the usual “How do you kill a monster?” stuff.
What the two lovebird scientists create initially is primarily a pretty hideous-looking CG creature. It continues to evolve outside the artificial “womb,” however, and, in time, Dren, as the duo name the creature, even begins to bear a resemblance to its human “mother.” The creature, which has bird-like legs, is quite human looking from the legs up, and is played by actress Delphine Chaneac in later scenes.
When the developing Dren becomes too big to hide in the lab, she is moved to a family farm that the mysterious Elsa has inherited from her family, a family that does not seem to have been quite right in the head. We learn very little of the trials and tribulations of the young Elsa, but we learn enough to know that her childhood was not straight out of a Disney movie.
The only problem with hiding Dren in the deserted farm is that Dren is bored and tries to escape at various points and attendance at work for one or both of the scientists become sporadic at best and non-existent at worst, dropping their status from hot shot stars to endangered species. (One funny exchange regarding Dren in the barn: “Don’t worry. She’s not gonna’ leave us,” from Elsa to Clive. Clive’s response: “She just did” as Dren flies off.
Yes, flies. Dren can do lots of things that humans cannot do, including breathe underwater and fly. The creature is one of the most intriguing and interesting other-worldly figures created on film since “Alien.” The human part comes through clearly, although Dren has no hair and seems to have a scar down the middle of the forehead of her otherwise attractive face.
There is an interesting scene where Clive dances with Dren to “Begin the Beguine” and a horrifying scene where Dren’s “Mother,’ (Elsa) feels it necessary to surgically remove Dren’s “stinger” against her will, because the stinger is lethal. (And, apparently, regenerates, if amputated.) There’s also the dispensable character that you just know is going to be picked off first, if anyone is.
Lots of bad things start to happen, as we knew they would, leading to charges that, “You’ve become something sick” (Clive to Elsa) and “We changed the rules. We got confused about right and wrong,” from Clive. Wistfully, he says, “I just wish things could go back to the way they were.”
As we all know, once the genie is out of the bottle, it’s hard to put it back in, leading, ultimately, to some interesting sequel opportunities. Will Brody reprise his role? Stranger things have happened on film, but it looks more like Elsa will take this series to the next level in “Splice 2.”
The special effects are…well…special and it doesn’t hurt to have the London Philharmonic Orchestra recording such songs as ‘Night and Dren.” Shot in Toronto, this film opens up interesting ground for discussion about cloning and its implications for mankind. I’m really looking forward to the sequel and thoroughly enjoyed this first “Splice” film.