Verdict: A twistedly depraved, yet highly enjoyable science fiction nightmare.
Grade: B+

“Science’s Newest Miracle … is a Mistake.”

Clive (Adrien Brody) and Elsa (Sarah Polley) are genetic scientists attempting to come up with a breakthrough protein that will help combat deadly diseases. With the prospect of losing everything they have worked for looming, the couple secretly splices together a cocktail of animal DNA with human DNA, and wait to see what happens. Rather quickly, an extraordinary creature is born, and the pair must figure out what to do with it.

Splice owes its entire existence to the pioneering works of David Cronenberg and David Lynch. Yes, there are elements of Frankenstein and the work of H.P. Lovecraft scattered throughout the film, but the bloody horror, the mutations, the sexual depravity, the creature itself — all of these elements are cut from the same cloth the two legendary directors wove in the 1970s and 1980s. But it is almost too easy to point out the little homages, references, and ideas co-writer and director Vincenzo Natali has dropped into his other-worldly tale. The whole film has a unique pulse, and its low-budget grittiness helps the tones and ideas of the picture go a very long way.

It is because of these elements that Splice rises out of the gluttony of modern horror sci-fi. It has old school charm and it uses that to its advantage. Natali, alongside co-writers Antoinette Terry Bryant and Doug Taylor, crafted an uncompromising view of a potential future nightmare. Much like other great science fiction titles, Splice makes the audience think very hard about the morals being broken at any given time, the consequences of the characters’ actions, and the very nightmare before them of whether a splicing experiment gone wrong like this one, could actually happen in reality.

If there is anything wrong with the film, it is the final act. Up until that point, everything feels very calculated but wildly unpredictable. But in the last chunk of the film, and especially its dying moments, the plotting seems very ill-conceived. It feels as if the writers had squandered all of their good ideas for the first two-thirds of the movie, and then didn’t know what to do next. There are some good concepts at play here, but they just lack the intensity, enthusiasm and uniqueness of what came before. Ironically, a lot of these last scenes were in the trailer that made Splice look like any other horror movie, while the rest of the film tries its hardest to distance itself from the norm.

The various creatures that appear, specifically the differing evolutions of the spliced together science project nicknamed Dren, are the true marvel of the film. While some look a whole lot better than others (the early renditions of Dren suffer the most), all of these nightmarish beings look excellent–and a lot better than they ever should have looked, given the constraints of the budget. Great care and detail went into creating these effects, and even more went into some of the makeup used on Delphine Chanéac and Abigail Chu to make the look of Dren become increasingly more believable. The work here is truly spectacular, and compliments the script wonderfully.

The unfortunate thing about having a small cast such as this one is that the lead actors end up doing the entirety of the heavy lifting. But this is not a problem for Polley or Brody. Both are more than qualified to keep the film afloat, and bring a passion to the small roles. Neither is terribly well-written, but both actors breathe depth into their characters and performances. They have just the right conviction to carry their roles. They never waver or alter their style, even when the film veers into disturbing territory or all out insanity. Their chemistry is also quite well-developed, and despite the initial weirdness, they are very believable as a couple.

The real marvel of the film, however, is undoubtedly Chanéac. She is simply magnificent in her role as Dren. She has to emote for the entire film (the creature does not really learn to talk), in various stages of dress, and she is more than up to the task. Her quick tonal changes reflect both the character’s struggle for identity, and the immediacy and honesty of the portrayal. Much like Polley and Brody, Chanéac brings a heightened conviction to the role that never falters. Her depiction of this monster makes it all the more human, and she makes genuine horror still look devastating.

Splice is cheap and gritty, but it has a low budget effects polish that is stronger than some of the best Hollywood blockbusters. The film has a few problems, but it is still well done all around, and should more than please fans of the genre.

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Story by: Vincenzo Natali and Antoinette Terry Bryant
Screenplay by: Vincenzo Natali, Doug Taylor and Antoinette Terry Bryant
Directed by: Vincenzo Natali
Starring: Adrien Brody, Sarah Polley, Delphine Chanéac

About the author

DAVID BALDWIN

David Baldwin is the Film Columnist at Geek Speak Magazine. He was raised on an unhealthy amount of 80s and 90s cinema, and somehow equally admires bloody action sagas and seminal teenage coming-of-age dramadies. If he is not talking about movies or TV shows, he's probably sleeping. Talk to him about the latest Oscar drama or schlocky horror film you watched on Twitter at @davemabaldwin.