Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews
- Category: Jacqueline Monahan
- Published on 04 June 2010
- Written by Jacqueline Monahan
Las Vegas Round The Clock
Jacqueline Monahan is an English tutor for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also a consultant for Columbia College Chicago in Adjunct Faculty Affairs
The title lends itself to notions of a gore-filled slasher flick (or at least one about vintage film editing techniques) but Splice unfolds as a surprisingly respectable science fiction tale, futuristically edgy and genuinely creepy. Well, the first half, anyway.
Two romantically involved genetic engineers, Clive Nicoli (Adrien Brody) and Elsa Kast (Sarah Polley) head a project that yields a miracle protein that could aid in the cure of cancer, diabetes, and a host of other human scourges. So far they’ve created two over-sized maggot-like blobs named Fred and Ginger, both sources of the protein, but they’ve yet to synthesize it, a feat which would result in billions of dollars for their employers and unimaginable celebrity for themselves.
The couple work for giant medical research corporation Newstead Pharmaceuticals, whose head honchos are exceedingly interested in patents and profits. Clive and Elsa are exceedingly interested in taking their genetic experiments to the next level. Big mistake or brave undertaking? Have you ever heard of scientists NOT going further despite being forbidden by their superiors or bound by law? Of course not. So…
An unauthorized gene-splicing experiment plants Elsa’s DNA into an unspecified animal ovum so that the resulting creature/child (Abigail Chu) develops as a half human/half kangaroo rat (my guess). She matures at an accelerated rate and embroils the two scientists into all manner of misadventures centered on mutant behavioral studies, moral, ethical and legal dilemmas such as creator vs. parent responsibilities, scientific discovery/progress vs. man playing God, that sort of thing.
We’ve seen something like this before, from the spliced-together man-made resurrection of Frankenstein’s monster to the slimy, mucous-covered Alien embryo, to the large, wide-set eyes of The Fly, to the femme fatale that was the deadly nucleus of Species.
Our intrepid lead characters’ names bear this out: Elsa (like Elsa Lanchester in Bride of Frankenstein) and Clive (as in Colin Clive, the original cinematic Dr. Frankenstein). And just like that, another man-made – and woman-made - being walks the earth, albeit on a rather strange pair of legs.
Elsa names the child Dren, a palindrome for NERD (Nucleic Exchange Research & Development) the division where the two scientists operate. Dren is secretly raised to adulthood there, which at her rapid growth rate takes only a few weeks. Elsa develops maternal feelings for Dren; Clive would like her destroyed but struggles with an ambivalence that both haunts and taunts him. He is at once drawn to and repelled by this accidental, unpredictable hybrid being.
The big bulky profit-centered bureaucracy that is Newstead Pharmaceuticals inevitably becomes involved in the couple’s activities when a Fred and Ginger unveiling at a medical symposium goes horribly awry. Elsa and Clive become personae non gratae and their protein synthesis project is shut down. Grownup Dren (Delphine Chaneac) is a secret the couple now keep in a barn on Elsa’s farm, a place which holds her unhappy childhood memories of maternal mistreatment.
Meanwhile Dren is disarmingly inquisitive at best and cunningly dangerous at worst. As she continues to grow into a dress-and-makeup wearing female (albeit with a prehensile tail tipped with a deadly stinger) Elsa and Clive’s relationship suffers, Clive and Dren’s relationship suffers and Dren and Elsa’s relationship suffers.
The last half of the film makes the entire audience suffer; that is, when they’re not giggling at the absurd turn of events that lead to an inevitable end that’s really another beginning.
Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley make the far-fetched premise as real as it can be - at first. Delphine Chaneac can certainly play maniac at times, with a variable palette of emotions, from sweet and coy to cruel and sinister. Abigail Chu is disarming as the hybrid child full of quicksilver gestures and aggression.
Director Vincenzo Natali (Getting Gilliam, Cube, Nothing) lenses an intelligent scientific premise from beginning to mid-point. Then, like Dren’s segmented, non-human legs, the second half doesn’t maintain the integrity of what comes before it, and a genetic tale dissolves into a generic one. Had chocolate-covered ants been available at the concession stand, they’d have been bought (and swallowed) more than the later and final developments of Splice.
There’s almost nothing more disappointing than a dashed expectation when the viewer is already so invested in a film that they’ve been sucked in – only to be rudely spat out again and then force fed a sudden serving of ludicrous events that literally had the audience laughing through what was supposed to be serious, epiphany-filled dialogue. Not the desired effect, I’m betting.
To sum up Splice’s fragmented personality in Frankenstein-speak: Lab. GOOD. Farm. BAD.