Monday, June 7, 2010

Movie Review: Splice

I'm not reviewing every single movie out there in the world, so here's someone else's opinion for a moment. Justin got to see the creepy Splice this weekend, and here's what he had to say!

It’s Alive!

Splice is Shelley via Cronenberg
Justin Senkbile

Despite its jumping, shrieking trailer, director Vincenzo Natali’s Splice has a lot in common with James Whale’s 1931 Frankenstein and David Cronenberg’s The Fly; these are movies that are not so much terrifying as they are strangely unsettling…and as far as unsettling movies go, Splice certainly earns its place on that list.

After creating Ginger and Fred, two grotesque lab-made creatures that prove the viability of new gene-splicing techniques, scientists Clive (Adrien Brody) and Elsa (Sarah Polley) probably should've just gone on vacation. Instead, with hopes of making an even larger mark on scientific history, Elsa coerces Clive into joining her on the next step: adding human genes to their DNA cocktails.

What results is a clicking, hissing creature, distortedly human in appearance but mysterious in every other sense. Clive, sensing the possible consequences, wants to kill it. Elsa, on the other hand, finds a long-buried maternal instinct beginning to blossom.

This is where Splice takes its defining turn, devoting its attention to the dynamic within this synthetic family unit. At first, Elsa dotes on her faux daughter, whom she’s named Dren, dressing her up and showering her with gifts. But as the “specimen” matures (it ages several days in a matter of minutes and is, as a young adult, played by Delphine Chanéac), Elsa becomes cold and harsh, like an exhausted mother losing patience with her temperamental teenager.

Polley clearly dominates the film, her manipulative matriarch Elsa being the driving force behind the experiment itself and the story's eventual fall into violence. Her counterpoint, Clive, is played aptly by the perpetually languid Brody. Submissive but not exactly timid, Clive's inability to stand up to Elsa earns him an equal share of the guilt.

Though Chanéac's is the most exciting role, it's also a pretty thankless one. Because she's heavily made-up, partially computer generated and spends most of the film twitching and squirming, it's easy to miss fact that there's also a bit of acting going on here. Despite of the burden of all the physical alterations, Dren ends up as frightening and heartbreaking as Boris Karloff's lumbering monster from 1931, and all of Splice's most moving moments belong to her.

Things do get pretty bizarre near the end (Macgruber has officially lost the "Most Uncomfortable Sex Scene of 2010" award), but Splice is really more of a close-quarters character study than a hunter-versus-hunted scare-fest. After all, Natali is toying with some weighty moral issues here. Technological and scientific responsibility is the most obvious, but the most striking is the focus on the sticky business of parenting, which, as you might imagine, only gets hairier when you're not sure just how human the kid is.

With all of the hyper-weirdness in the third act, it's debatable as to how successful Splice is in raising and articulating its questions. What's undeniable, though, is that it's magnificently creepy, a smart, surprising piece of early summer entertainment that manages to really leave a mark.

Grade: B

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