Movie Review: Splice (2010)

Delphine Chaneac and Sarah Polley in Splice
Photo: Warner Bros.

Buzz for Vincenzo Natali’s genetic sci-fi thriller Splice ramped up after its debut at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. It was snatched up by Warner Bros. and given a meaty summer release date so who wouldn’t expect it to be as excellent as the hype was insinuating? At the very least it had to be more than just counter-programming against Universal’s Get Him to the Greek… Right?

Sorry, Splice is one-half of an interesting sci-fi feature and one-half of an outlandish winged-creature sex romp. Perhaps the title of the film is more literal than I took it to be, because Splice is cut straight down the middle to the point the first half takes itself way too seriously considering where the second half dares go. Had this been conceived as a tongue-in-cheek B-movie from the outset I could have held on for the duration, but I can only make so many exceptions for one film.

Starring Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley as genetic engineers Clive and Elsa, the film begins as they have managed to create a whole new species capable of producing a new protein their corporate backers see as a major paycheck once they can synthesize and patent it. Of course, this takes priority over future DNA trickery, which causes Clive and Elsa to go rouge in an effort to move from strictly animal DNA to adding human DNA to the equation. As Elsa’s character says, and is obviously the magic phrase of the film, “What’s the worst that could happen?” To answer that question, you could create a scientific anomaly that tests the bounds of human morality as well as your career as a scientist and learn to love it as your unexplored mommy issues rise to the surface, but I’m just spit-balling here.

Morality plays a major role in the first half of the film, and even got someone like me who is in favor of embryonic stem cell research to second guess myself, but it quickly loses its relevance as Natali’s screenplay, co-written with Antoinette Terry Bryant and Doug Taylor, abandons all intelligence in favor of downright stupidity. The moral issue was already in play and Splice just continues to pile on before overstaying its welcome and devolving into the absurd.

Several times I had to say to myself, Okay, that just happened, and it was dumb, but let’s see where they take it. So many scenes in Splice are necessary just to make up for the stupidity of the scene that came before them, about 15 minutes of its running time could have been excised had the characters made smarter decisions. Clive and Elsa are gene-splicing masterminds and yet they’re surprised when their human-bird-cow-frog-lizard-thing becomes more than they can handle and then becomes something Clive prefers to “handle” a little too much.

There’s a point midway through Splice‘s second half I was ready to accept the silly turn the film had taken. I thought for sure what was coming next was the prelude to the certain sequel that will be spawned from this feature, but instead it was just another bump in the narrative. It was at this point I joined the rest of my screening audience and laughed my way through the final 20 minutes or so, and believe me this audience was laughing hard as one man leaving the theater could be heard saying, “Well, I guess we know what one of the worst films of the summer is.”

Brody’s performance as Clive was as reliable as we’ve come to expect from the Oscar winner, but Polley did nothing for me, oftentimes it felt as if she had learned her lines only minutes before filming each scene. The only real stand-out in Splice are the makeup and visual effects. Having Greg Nicotero along in the makeup department certainly helps as Delphine Chaneac playing Clive and Elsa’s aberration, which they name Dren, did well in a muted role. The CG is very good early on though it tends to gets worse as the film moves along and Dren gets older and begins showing signs of additional physical developments.

Trailers paint this film as a stand-out horror. Early reviews called it “creepy” and “mortifyingly fascinating”. None of this is the case. This is a Frankenstein meets the beauty queen version of Jeepers Creepers and it’s simply two styles of storytelling that don’t belong together. Don’t get me wrong, there is an interesting moral dilemma at the heart of this film and it’s the plotline you want to explore, but when Natali turns it into something else it’s almost as if someone changed the channel and you find yourself watching a complete different movie with the same characters, but instead of being genius level scientists they are grade-A morons.