Vincenzo Natali's Splice
Here's the link to the published version of my review in my column at The Richmond Examiner:
"Splice" is one of those experiment-gone-wrong stories in the tradition of "Frankenstein" or "The Fly." They tend to involve interesting ideas about what can happen when one pushes the boundaries of science to the extreme in order to discover something new and potentially useful to mankind. However, when compared to those other two stories, "Splice" comes up rather short in its exploration of the idea.
Clive Nicoli (Adrian Brody) and Elsa Kast (Sarah Polley) are geneticists who have been experimenting with combining the DNA of different animals in order to synthesize a protein that would help cure certain diseases. After successfully making two lifeforms with this DNA, they wish to move on to the the next step by adding DNA from a human. Their bosses think this is a bad idea and reject the proposal, but they are quite determined and decide to do it anyway.
The creature that they create is small at first, but ages rapidly, taking on more and more features of a human. All the while, they must keep their experiment a secret and hide it in different locations in their laboratory, but eventually even this is not good enough, forcing them to move their subject to an old farm. Things go pretty well at first, but it quickly gets out of hand as their experiment continues to change and reveal more of it features.
"Splice" starts off well, introducing the idea of doing this morally-questionable experiment, but then it quickly falls into the pattern of a regular monster film. Instead of addressing the morals involved with doing something of this nature, it becomes more so an "oooo, look at the interesting creature" film.
Of course the creature has to get out of hand since the writers didn't feel it necessary to go any deeper into the moral territory. If it hadn't at least gone in the "dangerous creature" direction, there wouldn't have been much going on here at all. Even while the film goes in this direction, it takes some bizarre turns in the second half that were not needed in the least. One of them was only there so they could set up an ending that the writers thought would be surprising, despite it being predictable from way before the time it is revealed.
The one interesting thing that the film has going for it is the evolution of the creature. It starts off very small, looking like a cross between a ferret and a baby dinosaur. As it grows, it looks like a small reptilian child, and as it continues, it looks more and more human, except with a large tail. We even discover that it has wings and can jump pretty high.
Elsa spends some of her time attempting to teach the creature, which they name "Dren" ("nerd" spelled backwards), to put together words with Scrabble tiles. It figures out how to spell out certain words that express how it feels and what it wants to do. Sadly, this is the most we ever really learn about Dren's personality, which becomes another area of the film that is left unexplored.
"Splice" is a missed opportunity to explore an interesting idea like this. If it had been able to get into the deeper areas of its story instead of just becoming another monster movie, then this could have been something much more engaging. Instead, because of the writers' choice to stay so superficial, we get a sluggishly-paced, forgettable thriller. 2/4 stars.
(Note: For a much better thriller, check out a previous effort from the same director entitled "Cube.")
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