CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: SPLICE
by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares
(THE SCENE: a busy laboratory. MICHAEL ARRUDA looks on as L.L. SOARES stirs together a bunch of chemicals)
LS: And add a bit of eye of newt and tongue of yak
MA: That doesn’t sound very scientific!
LS: What’s with the science? I’m making my lunch.
MA: Well, in that case, could you add some tomato sauce. I like my yak tongue with sauce. Love those saucy tongues!
(LS flings a ladle of tomato sauce onto MA’s head.)
LS: Saucy enough for you?
MA (wipes face with cloth and licks lips): Actually, it could use some oregano, but that’s neither here nor there. We have a movie to review: the new cloning movie, SPLICE. Care to begin?
LS (puts down beakers): Okay. This one starts off fast right away, with no slow explanations. Two scientists who are also lovers, Clive Nicoli (Adrien Brody) and Elsa Kast (Sarah Polley), are working on strange cloning experiments that involve splicing together DNA from various animals to form new species. When the movie opens, they have already created a brand new life form. The first of their kind—“Ginger” and “Fred”—are strange lumps of flesh that resemble nothing as much as giant crawling penises!
MA: You said it, I didn’t. But you’re right. That’s what they look like.
LS: I had a major flashback to Frank Hennenlotter’s BAD BIOLOGY, which I reviewed not too long ago (and which also had a crawling penis in it). It seems the main point of this research, though, isn’t to have fun with DNA, but to create new creatures which are teeming with proteins and chemicals that can cure diseases and get turned into pharmaceuticals. The major drug company the scientists work for, run by the ruthless Joan Charot (Simona Maicanescu), is only interested in making profits, otherwise they’ll pull the plug on the research, no matter how ground-breaking it is.
MA: I thought this was a realistic plot point. The motives of Joan Charot and the drug company don’t come off as cliché.
LS: When Clive and Elsa find out that they will not be funded to create more life forms, but are expected to extract goodies from the ones they’ve already created, they feel they’ve reached a scientific dead end. They had planned to create yet another new life form, this time including human DNA in the mix (because straight human cloning is illegal), but the company won’t fund it.
Instead of giving up, they simply continue their own experiments in secrecy, desperate to prove to themselves that they can do it (especially Elsa). After several failed attempts to mix animal and human chromosomes, they finally get it to work. The result is Dren (Delphine Chaneac), who first looks like an armless baby kangaroo but slowly gets more human as she grows at an accelerated rate (growing years in a matter of days).
MA: I thought the baby Dren resembled a cross between an alien baby and a walking roast chicken. Something, like this! (Reaches into boiling pot with giant fork and lifts a strange looking roast, a chicken body with a CLOSE ENCOUNTERS alien head.)
LS: Don’t touch that! It’s not even close to being done yet! (MA puts it back into the pot.)
Eventually, she’s a weird-looking, bald little girl who isn’t so easy to hide from the other scientists or the management, and eventually Clive and Elsa take Dren out to the country to stay in the barn of a farm that used to be Elsa’s childhood home.
At this point, Dren’s head is separated by a line that makes her look like an honest-to-God butthead!
(BEAVIS AND BUTTHEAD pop up and giggle)
BEAVIS: Heh, heh, he said Butthead.
BUTTHEAD: Haw haw. He said my name.
LS: As Dren continues to grow, she also becomes more and more dangerous to those around her. And a few times when Dren escapes, everyone goes into panic mode.
That’s pretty much the story in a nutshell.
(Suddenly, from out of a large beaker, comes a little monster that looks like a live-action Porky Pig, but green. The creature runs around the room grunting and snorting)
LS: Hmmm, maybe I can have green eggs and ham for lunch.
MA: Hey, it’s your own personal Mini-Me! (Green Pig lifts Alien Chicken from pot and starts dancing with it, knocking into test tubes and lab equipment.) Hey! Stop that! He’s going to wreck the place.
(LS hits the creatures with a shovel)
GREEN PIG: Tha-tha-tha that’s all folks!
LS: Now where was I? For the most part, SPLICE was much better than I expected it to be. The trailers looked okay, but when I went into the theater, I wasn’t really expecting much. Good trailers have been attached to bad movies before, and I wasn’t going to get my hopes up.
Everyone involved here turns in good performances. The script is smart and seems aimed at adults rather than teenagers. And Dren is suitably creepy and sometimes even scary. Hell, there’s even some human-on-monster sex later on in the movie. So what’s not to like?
That said, there were moments when I found certain events hard to swallow, and the ending is predictable as hell. But for the most part, everything is good enough to make you happily suspend your disbelief.
The movie moves at a brisk pace, the research bits are never draggy, and Dren is actually a pretty cool creature.
I give it two and a half knives. I didn’t think it was a must-see movie, but if you do spend the money for a movie ticket, I don’t think you’ll feel ripped off. It was pretty decent.
What did you think, Michael?
MA: I think I’m about to bore everybody, because I’m going to say the same things you just did. I wasn’t expecting much from this one either, and like you, I was pleasantly surprised. I think you hit the nail on the head when you said it was aimed at adults rather than teens. That was what stood out the most for me as I watched this picture, that the screenplay by Vincenzo Natali, who also directed, and Antoinette Terry Bryant, was refreshingly adult. And it was well-written.
I thought it started off slow, as most of the early scenes involved just our two lover scientists, Clive and Elsa, and at first they weren’t doing much for me. The beginning reminded me of David Cronenberg’s THE FLY (1986) as that film also featured two main characters almost exclusively throughout, Jeff Goldblum’s doomed scientist Seth Brundle and Geena Davis’s reporter. In that film Goldblum and Davis drew me in immediately, especially Goldblum who I think delivered the performance of his career in THE FLY.
Here, Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley weren’t anywhere near as compelling. However, they grew on me as the film went on, and I ended up liking both of their performances a lot.
The movie picks up steam once Dren enters the picture. It’s funny, because Dren isn’t a particularly compelling character herself. I mean, she’s a new life form, and so she should be compelling, but somehow she’s not. The reason the movie gets better once Dren appears is that she affects change in both Clive and Elsa. Because of Dren, Clive and Elsa go through some dramatic changes, and it is through these changes that their characters really become deeper and more interesting.
LS: I don’t agree. I liked Dren a lot. But I agree that she affects Clive and Elsa in interesting ways.
(Another creature rises up out of the cooking pot. This time it’s a muscular little man, without a shirt, who starts doing all kinds of posing on the tabletop)
LS: Oh no, it’s a tiny Taylor Lautner!
LS: You forgot so soon? The werewolf kid from TWILIGHT: NEW MOON. All he likes to do is show off his abs.
MA: I know who he is. I was just trying to block him out of my mind. What’s the idea, anyway? Of all the characters to conjure up, why him?
LS (lifts a large sledgehammer): Oh well, all experiments can’t be successful.
(TINY TAYLOR LAUTNER suddenly begins to transform into a lame-looking CGI wolf)
LS (brings down hammer): Oh no you don’t! (Sounds of whimpering, then silence)
MA: Well, back to the review. At first, Elsa loves Dren like a baby daughter, and Clive, realizing the potential trouble their new creation could cause, wants to kill it. Then, as we learn more about Elsa’s deceased mom and how awful she treated her– and when they return to Elsa’s childhood farmhouse we see her old bedroom, which looks like something right out of PSYCHO (1960)—we realize her feelings towards Dren are more complicated than simple maternal instincts.
LS: I wished they had expanded a bit on Elsa’s childhood. For once, flashbacks could have added to the emotional impact of the story. That bedroom is very disturbing, but we see it so fleeting that it doesn’t really register at first.
MA: Later, Elsa becomes harsh with Dren, and you get the feeling she’s acting like her own mother. When Dren reacts and tries to harm Elsa, Elsa strikes back by treating her inhumanely, like a lab experiment, stripping her of her clothes and dignity, and even maiming her.
At this point, it’s Clive who begins to relate to Dren, to become sympathetic towards her, which leads to that human/monster sex scene you were talking about. All joking aside, it’s a really neat scene.
LS: Oh, it’s definitely one of the movie’s highlights.
MA: At one point, Clive tells Elsa that she didn’t want kids of her own because she was afraid she’d lose control, but she was happy to have a lab experiment as a child, because she would have complete control over that. It’s a telling moment in the movie, because we learn why Elsa was so driven to create Dren in the first place.
The movie really takes an intelligent approach to its science fiction tale. It could have been superficial and cliché, but it’s not. It’s actually character-driven, as the tale of Dren unfolds through the actions and behaviors of Clive and Elsa.
However, it’s far from perfect. Take Dren, for instance. While I really enjoyed her look, she never becomes the character she had the potential for becoming. She’s a new life form, for crying out loud! She should be fascinating! Instead, she’s mildly interesting.
LS: I disagree. I think Dren is actually my favorite character in the movie, and Delphine Chaneac does a great job bringing her to life. The actress who plays her as a little girl (Abigail Chu) is quite good, too. But Chanéac makes her completely sympathetic, without uttering a single human word.
MA: I guess. I’m with you in terms of the way she looked. I thought she was cool-looking, but in terms of her character, I wanted to get inside her head more. I don’t think I felt her pain as much as I felt the pain of the two leads. But I liked her much more than THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE!
LS: Don’t start that again, or you might find yourself in one of these test tubes!
MA: And to nitpick here, her name Dren is “nerd” spelled backwards. I don’t know why, but while watching the scene when they named her Dren, my mind suddenly experienced a flashback to the 1976 KING KONG when Jessica Lange explains her name Dwan as “Dawn with two letters reversed.” Ugh!
LS: The scene where Elsa gives Dren her name is kinda goofy, but it’s not that bad, and it makes enough sense that you can let it go.
MA: There were a few memorable scenes, but not a whole lot. I thought the initial birthing scene where both the baby Dren and Elsa nearly die was rather flat and not all that dramatic. The scene where Dren makes her first appearance was much better. There’s also a neat scene later in the movie when Clive and Elsa are making this huge presentation for their company, Newstead, and they’re in front of a huge audience of business types and scientists. They’re supposed to be showing off Fred and Ginger, but the two creations decide to attack each other, eventually spraying the shocked audience with a shower of blood. It’s a sick, funny scene, that had the audience I saw it with laughing.
LS: That was a fantastic scene! And does some major foreshadowing about what’s to come.
MA: Yeah, they weren’t laughing to make fun of it, they were laughing because it was a cool scene!
But for the most part this movie is not about high drama. For example, when Dren escapes at the farmhouse, I thought the film might go the monster movie melodrama route about some strange creature loose in the countryside. It doesn’t, which actually is a good thing. SPLICE remains a methodical thought-provoking science fiction thriller throughout.
There’s a sense of sadness which pervades this movie. Dren is a sad, tragic character, and the film does a good job capturing this feeling.
LS: I definitely agree about the atmosphere of sadness that seems to hang over everything. It’s very effective.
MA: And the moment when Clive tells Dren that they love her, and they embrace, is one of the more emotional scenes in a movie that isn’t really all that emotional, other than that feeling of sadness.
The best part by far is the relationship between Clive and Elsa. They seem very real, and the way they interact and the things they say to each other are very realistic.
As you said, the weakest part of SPLICE is its ending, which was predictable and blah, and really, had the movie had a stronger ending, I probably would be much more enthusiastic about it.
As it is, I found SPLICE surprisingly adult and realistic, a thought-provoking science fiction thriller that’s smart and enjoyable, but ultimately a film that lacks the heightened drama or horror that could really put it over the edge and take it to the next level. I also give it 2 ½ knives.
So, I guess we’re in agreement on this one.
Hey, is that sauce ready yet?
LS: Almost. It’s just missing one key ingredient.
MA: What’s that?
LS: Head of critic.
MA: Head of critic? You mean—?
LS: Nah! Not you! Who would I get to prove wrong week after week? (Opens pot, then begins to unwrap a parcel of butcher’s paper.)
MA: That’s huge. How many heads do you have in there?
(LS unwraps parcel to reveal— the heads of STATLER and WALDORF from THE MUPPET SHOW)
STATLER: Hey, can you believe these guys? Passing themselves off as critics!
WALDORF: Well, they’re definitely not cooks, either! They can’t even boil water! They’re burning the place down!
LS: Oh shut up, you two!
(Flames shoot out from underneath the pot).
LS: Oops. Too much gas.
MA: No comment. That does it until next week, folks. See you, then!
© Copyright 2010 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares
Both Michael and LL give this movie 2 1/2 KNIVES: