Directed by: Vincenzo Natali
Written by: Vincenzo Natali & Antoinette Terry Bryant
Starring: Adrian Brody, Sarah Poley, Delphine Chanéac, and Brandon McGibbon
In Splice, we begin our descent into the murky waters of the cloning issue by rising up, in first-mutant perspective, to see our creators. Through the murky blue-tint of the screen, we see doctors interacting much like they would on any of the countless hospital TV shows on air. It feels natural, and commonplace.
This is one of the important strengths of Vincenzo Natali’s unique film. It shows us the everyday lives of two doctors, Clive Nicoli (Adrian Brody) and Elsa Kast (Sarah Poley), whose lives are anything but conventional, and then turns their respective worlds upside down. The camera does not hint at the abnormal life forms as in Alien. Rather, it blends the clone Dren (Delphine Chanéac) in with her creators.
Message movies are rarely this off-key and entertaining. There are a few fragments of dialogue that throw off the subtlety of this film’s handling of the issue, but it mostly tackles the issue of cloning with a strong narrative force and an admirable ability to stay reletively unbiased. The story is human, but all the characters are not.
Dren is a wonder of special effects creation. Splice’s special effects team can rightly hold the early versions of Dren in the recently opened “Digital character Hall of Fame,” next to Gollum and the Na’vi. It’s amazing how alive the monster feels. When Poley’s Elsa Kast embraces it and it lets out the groan of a young girl, it will send shivers down your spine.
Many will go into this movie expecting a monster movie, but it doesn’t really go into those traditional genre trappings until the last third. Up until that point, Splice is a provacative, thought-provoking thrill ride. It’s powered by its ideas, as the best horror is. As in many monster movies, many of the atrocities are committed by the people before the monster gets his due.
When these two scientist’s creation gets out of hand, they hide her for fear of being discovered. Though Nicoli attempts to kill it at one point, they both soon grow attached to it. It satisfies both of their needs, Kast’s emotional ones and, in a disturbing scene, Nicoli’s sexual ones.
Natali films his movie in a mostly conventional way. There are a few nifty camera tricks, like the rays of light that flash as a doctor’s hand reaches into the cloning sack, but you will be more engaged by the story than this film’s visuals.
The off-kilter performances of both Brody and Poley really help keep the film afloat. You sympathize with both of them, which makes some of their actions all the more disturbing because of how convincingly real it seems. Relative unknown Delphine Chanéac is excellent as the speechless Dren, delivering a heart-wrenching performance of a being lost and alone in the world. The image of Nicoli teaching her to dance is a beautifully subtle scene that brings to mind Beauty and the Beast as much as the rest of the movie does the Alien movies or The Thing.
With this movie, Natali has delivered us an excellent breath of fresh air. Real fans of horror and sci-fi will delight in this terrific excercise of the monster movie, its successful merging of ideas and thrills, and its new horror movie icon.