Movie Review: Splice- A Rather Superficial Contemplation on the Ethics of Lab Experimentation from the Director of The Cube

It’s been quite awhile since director Vincenzo Natali had his first minor cinematic success with The Cube all the way back in 1997. Returning to his claim to fame genre of horror Vincenzo is back with a rather monotonous spin on the Frankenstein themed world of modern gene pool splicing. His film Splice, which got picked up from the Sundance film festival earlier this year and is now a main summer release, doesn’t contemplate anything new with the complex subject matter of creating life nor does it explore anything inventive with the psychological or horror genres. Instead we are given the typical set up between master and creator while being brow beaten with the blatant referencing to a message that even a child could understand. This is a film that lacks subtlety and more importantly a tightly developed atmosphere of suspense, which films of the same genre have done much better before such as Ridley Scott’s Alien or Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park. Most of the time the exaggerated acting and scenarios are a tad laughable while the message of thou shalt not play god in the lab becomes superficial as they talk more about right and wrong rather than show us visually what they’d like for us to take away from this average dramatic horror concoction. Ultimately Splice isn’t a thought provoking morality tale nor is it a suspenseful horror ride, making it a pretty tedious film to sit through till the end no matter what expectations you have.

Horror hasn’t been at the forefront of originality for quite a while now and it’s not surprising that Splice’s narrative, with a focus on animal testing and gene pool splicing, would just be a higher budget Roger Corman film sort of like Frankenstein meets The Wasp Woman. Basically the story centers around two rebellious scientists Clive Nicoli and Elsa Kast, both played well enough by Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley respectively, who have been experimenting with splicing animal DNA to create animal mutations in order to find medical benefits. They are ready to jump to the next step which would introduce human DNA into their experiments but are strictly told to isolate a particular protein from their current successful splices. Elsa ignores her financiers request and pulls Clive into a dangerous and highly unethical experiment introducing human DNA into animal creation. The result is a small animal that begins to evolve outside of the womb as a human animal hybrid that eventually sees Clive and Elsa as its parents. Known to us as Dren, the human animal hybrid grows rapidly and becomes increasingly intelligent. Dren becomes violent and rebellious making it extremely dangerous to keep her around as she experiences the combination of animal instinct and the human drive for free will. As with all horror films if you’re paying close attention you know when the twist and turns will take place considering that the music and camera work are dead giveaways. Once the film does take the attempt into scaring you the film has been dragging for far too long and the anxiety that usually builds when you’re involved with certain characters fails to do so in Splice. Everything that you might expect would happen with a human animal hybrid does and so it makes the lacking suspense adulterate the experience in the end.

Perhaps over the years horror has gotten too predictable but there is nothing surprising or vastly twisting in Vincenzo’s Splice at least for those who don’t let films be projected to them as if they were Alex in A Clockwork Orange. Luckily the cinematography is crystal clear enough to allow the film to have a deliberately beautiful quality to its many images. There is an appropriate use of shadows, angles, distorted point of view, and fast moving camera work to make the narrative experience tolerable. Horror has always been a great example of how the technical fields of cinema really do matter, especially how the use of sound and music can create tension and the appropriate mood for the spectacles that will unfold. What undermines the technical artistry is the familiar story that only skims the surface of the ethics of lab human experimentation while also constantly reminding you that there is an ethical question involved in the film. Directors and writers need to learn to respect their audience’s intelligence and not expect them to be at a 5th grade learning level. Even my cynicism of the public at large won’t allow me to lower my expectations of how cinema should be presented, which allows for some minor ambiguity in relation to message. This allows varying interpretations dependent on multiple points of view.

Another positive observation of Vincenzo’s Splice is the acting from the select few that actually embody the cast in the film. Academy Award winner Adrien Brody plays a scientist who wants to remain grounded but is constantly tempted by the possibilities and risks that his partner’s ambitions eventually lead to. He is believable in being reluctant and ethically challenged despite the scripts dialogue continuously reminding us that there is an ethical challenge at hand. Sarah Polley, Brody’s on screen counterpart, holds her own as we uncover the psychological reasoning to her obsession with creating another creature that she can take care of. But really it’s the non-vocalized performance of Delphine Chaneac that ignites the screen with beauty, pain, curiosity, and a violent sexuality. She is graceful in her performance that utilizes her eyes and posture instead of words, and she should be applauded for accomplishing the difficult task she was given. There really are no other actors besides the talking mouth pieces that inevitably have tragic fates (don’t moan and groan of spoilers…this is a “horror” movie), giving these three actors the majority of the screen time making it as convincing as possible. And to Splice’s benefit the atmosphere and scenarios are convincing, but it just lacks depth, visual underlining, and a valid direction.

For those venturing to the theaters to see a horror film the result Splice might leave you with could go either way. There are those who appreciate the art form of the horror genre, evidence by Kubrick’s The Shining or Friedkin’s The Excorcist, and there is the rest who only go for the shock and awe of modern horror. Unfortunately for the latter group Splice doesn’t offer much blood or gore, nor does it venture into the jump out at you suspense world until 15 minutes towards the end. What Splice attempted to do was revisit an old but always relevant theme pertaining to moral implications of creating mutations, creatures, or hybrids that inevitably has drastic consequences. Vincenzo Natali doesn’t have the ability to go deep into the message’s complexities nor does he have the grace as a horror master to make the last 20 or so minutes suspenseful. All across the board Splice fails to engage the mind and nerve leaving you with a shallow updated version of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. But if you’re looking for the director of The Cube’s vision of combining Species with Alien then by all means take the risk and see Splice. The rest of you might be better off renting Jurassic Park.

Grade: C+

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