Splice – Science with a sting

splice-poster-newIn 1997, director Vincenzo Natali wrote and directed a sci-fi horror movie called Cube which revolved around a group of strangers stuck in a construct of sadistically booby-trapped rooms, with no clue how to survive other than some seemingly random numbers engraved on each door. The fates of the characters were generally quite grisly, but the film itself posed some interesting questions about morals and the will to survive.

Natali planned to follow up that effort with a film exploring the concept and potential ramifications of genetic modification. His idea required a budget that simply was not available, but 13 years later he has finally been able to deliver Splice, a creepy, unnerving and ultimately thought-provoking slice of sci-fi horror pie.

Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley play Clive Nicoli and Elsa Kast, two genetic engineers who have been conducting research and experiments investigating the outcome of DNA splicing. They plan to start introducing human DNA into the mix, but the pharmaceutical company with all the cash is not too keen.

The persistent duo decide to oppose their financiers and proceed with their plans in secret, convinced that successful splicing of human DNA with that of other animals could provide cures to several devastating diseases.

Their secretive work spawns a creature that they name Dren (the reversed letters of the pharmaceutical company’s acronym N.E.R.D). The creature displays impressive cognitive development and rapidly grows into something akin to an inquisitive feminine teenager, albeit one with a tail and stinger.

Inevitably things turn dark, and the scientists must face up to the dramatic consequences of their questionable actions.

Clearly this is not particularly new ground; you only have to watch Cronenberg’s The Fly for a very comprehensive lesson in the grim dangers of messing with genetics. The potential horrors of playing God are well documented in the world of cinema.

However, Splice has an original quality; the avenues explored by Natali have raised a few eyebrows, but, much like his protagonists, he has decided that the risks are worth taking in order to tread new ground. One scene in particular will certainly not be to everyone’s taste, but full credit to the director for attempting something different. His direction is subtle but effective, and he gets some great performances out of his small cast. Brody (The Pianist, Predators) and Polley (Go) are very genuine and enjoyable to watch, but the real star is Delphine Chanéac as Dren. She has no dialogue, but her physical performance is excellent and heightens the artistic value of the film.

The plot moves at a comfortable pace, but never really breaks a sweat which is a mild disappointment. It does however provide a refreshing alternative to the plethora of torture-based horror films that have engulfed the genre in recent times. Splice could have been a bit nastier without being gratuitous, but the focus on the scientific aspect of the story is certainly admirable.

Although it is slightly lacking in tension and plot variation, Splice is still a good watch and highlights some very valid questions about the concept of genetic meddling and the current direction of science.

Image: Beyondhollywood

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