The horror genre is very pliable, but studios often chase the familiar, and for good reason. A Nightmare on Elm Street is an easy sell, and remaking something gives it a built-in cache of awareness. A small, weird title about a mutant that borrows from David Cronenberg’s sensibilities is a harder sell, simply because the audience doesn’t know what to expect, and it’s obviously strange. Such may have been why Splice – which didn’t get that much traction – came out this summer and fell away quickly even though it’s one of the most interesting and accomplished horror films in quite some time. Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley star as geneticists working on creating spare parts for humans. When they use some human DNA, they accidentally create a baby mutant. Oh well, maybe it will be reborn on home video. My review of Splice on Blu-ray after the jump.
Clive (Brody) and Elsa (Polley) are considered rock stars in their field, and want to push the boundaries of good taste when it comes to genetic research. They’ve been coming up against walls in their work, and the company is nearing a position where it’s make or break time. Clive and Elsa don’t really like the pressure as they feel they can take their research further but need human DNA, so one night they decide to break the rules, and see what happens.
Clive and Elsa are also a couple, and there has been a discussion about their future and kids. She isn’t really sure she’s ready to slow down, and having a kid will limit their work ability. But when they decide to cross boundaries, they unintentionally create a new hybrid species and have a baby that way. Their work begins to suffer as they have to look after this thing they’ve created.
As it grows bigger it grows more and more human, with female characteristics. They name it Dren (Abigail Chu as a child, Delphine Chaneac as an adult), and the two become parents as Dren goes through a number of normal childhood developments. Except in this case, while they also have to make her feel comfortable, and let her understand what they can of the outside world, they also have to hide her from the world. Eventually they move Dren to a farmhouse, but with her accelerated growth rate she starts becoming sexual, and with only one male nearby that leads to some Freudian interests her parents.
Splice succeeds because it’s a mood piece, and what’s great about it is how it turns the growth of a mutant to essay the difficulties in raising children, especially for a couple not sure that they were ready for it. There’s a great scene where Clive puts the kid’s in water – it turns out Dren has gills – and the film leaves it open where he knew what he was doing or if he was trying to kill her (leaning more toward homicide). The film also accentuates how both parents and children play their roles, and how quickly Clive and Elsa fall into parental traps.
If the film has any problems, it’s that the third act turns the film into more of a classic monster story. This isn’t unexpected, but some of the mechanics of doing it involve someone reaching into a lake to get a flashlight. Perhaps you there is a justification in this wild turn in that the film is paying off the potential of being a horror film, but it felt like genre machinations. But when Splice is cooking, it’s definitely one of the best horror films in a long while.
Warner Brothers Blu-ray presents the film in widescreen (1.78:1) and in DTS-HD 5.1. As with most new releases, the title looks incredible. Also included are a DVD and digital copy of the film. Extras are limited to a making of (35 min.) called “Director’s Playground: Vincenzo Natali on the Set of Splice.” It’s an actual behind the sense piece worth watching, so there’s that.