Splice is for mature audiences only. That note not only applies to the content of the film, but to its themes. It’s a fun, entertaining movie but also one that’s deceptive and will unnerve audiences in unexpected ways. The trailers for the movie depict it as a jump-scare film, but it’s nothing so disposable. Splice is a movie that will stick with you if you’re willing to intellectually engage with it. But there will come a point in the film that will shatter your expectations and mature audiences will become totally captivated by its bold decision. Immature audiences will most likely check out completely and fail to see that Splice is not only entertaining, but it’s creepier than most “horror” films in recent memory.
Elsa (Sarah Polley) and Clive (Adrien Brody) are rock stars of the science world. The couple are on the cover of Wired, they wear cool clothes, and they’ve hit upon a revolutionary breakthrough in the realm of genetically engineering that could possibly cure a score of diseases including cancer. But pushed by a mixture of her own ambition, arrogance, and other reasons which I won’t spoil, Elsa ropes Clive into secretly splicing together a new creature—one that contains human DNA. As the creature—who they eventually name “Dren”—continues to develop and change, so too does Clive and Elsa’s relationship as well as their notions of love, morality, and control.
Co-writer and director Vincenzo Natali effortlessly carries Splice across various tonalities: horrific, darkly comic, and even a sweet family film. But where it will eventually take you is to a very creepy place and I won’t spoil what the turning point is, but you’ll know it when you see it. That turning point pulled me even deeper into the movie, but the audience I saw it with responded with scorn and derision and anything the film did from that point was placed in the “so bad its good” pile.
But while the audience was hooting and hollering, I was completely absorbed in the film up until the end when Splice becomes a bit too slasher-flick. Splice is a monster movie, but it’s a monster movie that’s doesn’t need to resort to jump-scares. But for the majority of the movie, Natali stays away from that approach and instead layers his film with thoughtful imagery (of which a large portion is unapologetically Freudian), striking cinematography, and expert editing.
Heavy credit goes to Polley, Brody, and Delphine Chanéac—who plays teenage Dren—for their performances. The chemistry between Polley and Brody is a key element to the film’s success. Without it, you wouldn’t believe that Elsa and Clive would be so close and therefore wouldn’t care about the way their relationship changes over the course of the movie. As for Chanéac, she’s phenomenal. Dren can’t communicate through speech so the actress not only has to rely heavily on body language to convey her emotions, but has to do so with a body that isn’t totally human. The humanity in Dren is essential not only to the character but to the entire film and Splice wouldn’t work without Chanéac’s remarkable performance.
Splice is a movie that’s sure to divide audiences. I ask that if you go see it (and you should go see it), that you try to engage the film even when it makes you so uncomfortable that you want to run away into ironic detachment. Sci-fi horror at its finest is supposed to not only stimulate our minds, but take us to disturbing places in order to do so. Splice may not be a perfect movie, but it’s a damn fine one.