Splice

 

You should know that Splice is not a movie for the feminists among you. Or the scientists. I’m frankly flummoxed as to how to proceed with this review, as Splice is about a dozen movies rolled into one and it’s very nearly stumped me. Some of those movies are pretty sweet. Some of them are tedious and stupid. And some of the movies are offensive and infuriating. Allow me to break it down for you!

THE PLOT:

Elsa (Sarah Polley) and Clive (Adrien Brody) (get it?) are rock star genetic scientists in the nowish future or futuristic nowtimes or thereabouts. Also they’re in love and they dress crazy and their apartment is ridiculous.

Elsa and Clive work for a branch of a pharmaceutical company studying Nucleic Exchange Research and Development (NERD, sigh). They’re working on splicing various animal DNA into creature hybrids (named Ginger and Fred) for cell and pharmaceutical research. Against clear instructions from the suits that are funding their research, they create a third organism that has human DNA swirled into all the animal gunk in there, resulting in Dren (nerd backwards), a pretty bald little kangamphibicatbirdlady, with some T-Rex thrown in for good measure.

Dren is alarmingly intelligent, of course, and also super adorbs, so Clive and Elsa (well, mostly Elsa) lose all scientific sense and detachment and just squee all over her. Dren grows, ages and evolves rapidly, which isn’t scary at all, right?

So pretty, sweet little Dren doesn’t take too long before turning into a sullen and freakishly powerful rebellious teenager. Damned teens! Always going to the mall and racking up phone bills and eating bunnies and shit!

Obvious to anyone who has seen a science fiction movie, a horror movie or the Discovery Channel, it all rapidly spirals out of control, despite Clive and Elsa’s super responsible handling of the situation. Sorry, no, not that—the other thing. You know, the total and utter fucking up of the situation. That’s the one! After all, as Jeff Goldblum super hotly said in Jurassic Park, “Life will find a way”…to ruin everything for everyone.

The Good:

Splice is certainly original.  A more commonplace film could never have given me this much pause–nor the rest of the audience with whom I was sitting, all of whom were clearly unsure how to absorb much of what played out onscreen. Writer/director Vincenzo Natali (writing with Antoinette Terry Bryant and Doug Taylor) also penned and helmed the first Cube movie, a brilliantly unique genre flick with a startling premise. The premise of Splice isn’t breaking any ground (after all, Mad Scientists Create Monster In The Name of Progress is about as old-school as it gets), but the tone is fresh: in turns humorous, ironic and mind-bogglingly strange. The cinematography and use of color are beautifully handled. Guillermo del Toro executive produced, and you can see him here at times, along with glimpses of Cronenberg and Tod Browning.

The title credits are wonderful and the creature work…well, this movie would have gotten a much lower grade were it not for the phenomenal creature work. Abigail Chu as the child Dren and Delphine Chanéac as the teenaged Dren each nail some seriously wacked physical acting with grace and style.

All the casting is excellent. Adrien Brody gives a dry and bemused performance, never taking the role too seriously. The film occasionally shows a sense of humor about itself and never more than through Brody’s performance. Sarah Polley is always fantastic and her performance here is challenging and rage-making, in a good way! The role is horrendous. The performance is wonderful. That can’t be easy to do.

The best part of Splice is that it goes where you think it won’t dare. It totally DOES dare, I’ll give it that. Dares to be crazy and fucked up, for sure. Also dares to be stupid and misogynistic, but we’ll get to that in a minute. Or now!

The Bad:

There is so much rampant stupidity in this movie! Elsa and Clive are THE WORST SCIENTISTS EVER! They use no judgment, no caution, no objectivity and no adherence to the scientific method in their research. And they’re supposed to be brilliant and world-renowned? Also, I HATE THEM.

They’re so undeservedly smug! And they dress with complete abandon and also INSANITY. I’m talking shiny neon suits and shit.  It’s rather distracting.  Damn cocky hipster scientists! Furthermore, they have REALLY awful sex. That should make me feel sorry for them but mostly it just makes me hate them some more and then feel sorry for the director who’s possibly new to sex?

The !SCIENCE! in Splice could be a lot worse—they forgo much of the fauxscientific babbling and keep it simple. Still, the lab scenes are implausible and annoying in their weirdness. The pacing of the film is off: it’s abrupt and too fast-paced, never letting the suspense build before it’s bounded off into the next movie it’s decided to be for that scene. And, for all of Splice‘s DARING TO GO THERE, I predicted the entire final third of the film, mostly because I’ve seen both Jurassic Park and Orphan (reviewed here). Also, it’s unforgivably short on gore. Even when they kept hinting in really hilarious ways at some awesome gore to come, they failed to deliver!

But the real problem with Splice comes from, I suspect, the multiple writers. The film introduces seemingly intriguing plot points (Elsa’s mommy issues, Elsa’s bedroom as a child, Clive’s brother) and then never deals with them again. It rather felt like they went back to the screenplay and stuck in some “character development” at random, hoping something would resonate. Uhm, it didn’t.

The WTF:

Ahh, if only Splice were simply dumb and occasionally predictable. Alas, it’s also CRAZY MISOGYNISTIC!

So at first Elsa’s a very cool chick. Clive tries to convince her to move to a larger apartment in the hopes of having kids one day; she calmly (and awesomely) responds that she doesn’t want to change her living situation for some hypothetical third party. Go Team Elsa, yeah? Yeah. That’s before she splices up a freakish little lab baby and all the chick hormones inside turn her Rational Scientist Brain into Crazed and Giddy Mom Brain.

She’s all: “I love you, freaky lab-baby! I’m gonna name you, and put dresses on you, and teach you how to play with dolls, and SQUEE I HAVE A BABY NO NEED FOR SCIENCE ANYMORE OMG BABIEEEEEEEEES!” Gone is the rational, independent, oddly-dressed rock star scientist. She stops caring about work, stops wearing make-up, changes straight into sweat pants and old sweaters and loses her goddamn mind. And then! As Dren gets older and prettier, of course Elsa gets jealous and bitter and hateful, because that’s what moms do, right? I mean, not my mom, who is rational and intelligent and attractive and industrious, but I bet some moms out there, right? Right?

BUT WAIT. Elsa also gives Dren the best advice ever when teaching her how to apply make-up. “What woman doesn’t want to be debased once in a while?” she asks rhetorically. YES. Debased. She said that. I promise. DEAR VINCENZO NATALI, ONE DAY I WOULD LIKE TO INTRODUCE YOU TO A REAL, ACTUAL WOMAN AS YOU HAVE OBVIOUSLY NEVER MET ONE BEFORE.

So! In conclusion, Splice is worth a watch. An infuriating, confusing, mockery-riddled watch. Just not if you’re a feminist. Or a scientist.

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17 Responses to “Splice”

  1. I don’t know how you do it, marla (well, I do, it’s cause you’re a genius) but once again, you’ve summed up my feelings entirely! Even some feelings I wasn’t sure I felt. But yep, now I remember I felt ’em.

    It’s like, look. I can forgive lazy science if the plot is great (the aforementioned Jurrassic Park). I can forgive weak writing if the characterization is there (Harry Potter, love ya JKR, but seriously, learn to use the comma correctly). I can even forgive blatany misogyny if the movie kicks ass (every Cronenberg ever). BUT NOT ALL OF IT AT ONCE.

  2. As a fellow viewer of Splice, I walked out of the theater primarily irritated/amused by the INSANE misogyny, the annoying cluelessness of the characters, and the utterly predictable third act. And yet, looking at those stills, I’m reminded of those parts of the movie that were otherwise breathtaking, and….shit, I don’t know. People should probably see it. I guess. Is that conflicted enough?

    Great review! Captures a really difficult movie to describe. Fascinating premise, great actors, BEAUTIFULLY created and shot, and with the balls to go everywhere you think/suspect/hope it might, but still infuriating and ultimately predictable, with ridiculous lapses of logic and an inexplicable lack of gore. Those “mom” issues were high-larious!

    I’m glad I saw it. Glad I saw it with people who wanted to sit around discussing/shit-talking it afterward, and really, really glad you wrote this review. There was so much to cover, and you got it all!

    Man, that poster is gorgeous.

  3. Wow, I wanted to see this, cause Sarah Polley! Now maybe not so much. Or at least I’ll wait until dvd. Thank you Marla!

  4. Get over yourself & the misogyny. Puh-lease! The biggest reason American movies are no longer an art form is because we have to be so damn nice & the only people who can be portrayed in a negative manner are white males. Thank god for these Canadians. I’m sorry, a woman can’t be a mad scientist? I’m sorry, women don’t abandon careers for motherhood & sometimes lose their minds? Yes. They do. I’m sorry, but every woman on screen has to represent all of femdom in a positive light? It’s like if a woman is portrayed as strong/successful on screen then she has to serve as a beacon of positivity as well. It’s BS.

    Movies once attempted to show us for who we really are & pose difficult questions. Now viewers simply want them to affirm their own insecurities or pose as PR pieces for some segmented faction’s PC-cause. You want equality? Start with being able to accept the fact that NOT ALL “STRONG” WOMEN ARE SAVIORS. Some are bad people. I grow so tired of hearing all the talk about the lack of roles for women & then seeing firsthand how censored creators are when it comes to developing interesting female characters. They either have to be all about T&A or be stunted parodies. (And no, Meryl Streep in “Devil Wears Prada” is not an example of a “bad woman.”)

  5. mcf – I appreciate your taking a contrary view, and you’re certainly not the first person to bemoan the weakness of American films w/r/t risk-taking characters, but did you actually see Splice? I’ve got no problem at all with complex/weak/evil/flawed female characters, any more than male ones (or black, Asian or Hispanic ones). But that’s not what we got in this movie.

    Female mad scientist? Hell yeah! But this character’s arc was completely, transparently unbelievable – even the best acting can’t hide writing that flawed. That’s what made the character so infuriating.

    All that being said, you’re absolutely right that there’s a dearth of strong, complicated female roles out there (and I don’t count Streep in Prada, either). You’re also right that the American studio system takes very little interest in developing anything risky, or challenging. It’s just a shame that this semi-awesome movie couldn’t create a role like that, in spite of having a top-notch actor in Sarah Polley, and fascinating material with which to work.

  6. mcf, thanks for your comment and I don’t want to be too repetitive here as I mostly just agree with everything Jerry said above. The point isn’t that Sarah Polley’s character lost her mind and abandoned her career for motherhood, and it’s not that she wasn’t a savior. I loved that she was a mad scientist! I just hated that she (and Brody, this has nothing to do with gender) were LOUSY scientists.

    I said above that although the role was abhorrent, Polley did a fantastic job with it and I love that in a film. My problem is that we didn’t see any plausible journey; she virtually switched into Insane Mother Mode the instant she laid eyes on Dren. I think a complex and interesting female character needs context and tangible development, not just a couple of mommy issues and an instant personality swap that borders on schizophrenia.

  7. Wow! What an interesting debate that’s going on here. I’m not going to jump into that but will say that everyone has valid points that I agree with. That being said, I was really just plain disappointed that this movie wasn’t better. It had such a great cast and the writing just felt flat. I haven’t experienced an awesome cast/bad writing combo like this since Wolfman. Marla, you summed it up quite well: the parts that were great were great and the others, not so great.

  8. I hate all women except Sarah Polley and I hate science! I’m going to love this movie!

    Great review.

  9. obvs i wasn’t planning on seeing this movie (in spite of the presence of my celeb sarah twin, LOVE U RAMONA) cos it looked to scary, so reading yr review was not only the safer option but apparently the more entertaining one as well! DOUBLE BONUS!!

    seriously, fantastic review. you have the rare ability to cloak accurate analysis with a fabulous layer of snark.

    also? i’m sorry, but that baby makes my ovaries SCREAM, not squee.

  10. er, “too scary,” not “to scary.” EMBARRASSING!

  11. hah! screaming ovaries, awesome. Also, Sarah, during the movie Jerry whispered: “She’s like the crazy, scientist version of Sarah Pitre!” which I knew would make you happy.

  12. aw best compliment ever!!!!!!!!!!! THANK YOU JERRY.

  13. Sarah directed me here to your review, because I just got back from seeing this movie which I HATED. It was one big WTF?! to me, and not in a good way at all. Excuse me while I wash my eyes out with soap.

    ………………….

    Back now. Maybe the only scene I liked was when Fred and Ginger duked it out and blood spilled all over the audience.

  14. Oooh interesting review! (this one, I might not be too scared to see) It looks kind of cool, and the effects look pretty awesome.

    I just have one question, since you brought up the makeup thing. If you have a bald head, do you apply foundation all over it, or just to where your hairline would be? And if it’s the latter, don’t you get a random line? These are the things that bother me.

  15. That is an excellent question! I would assume all over it, because otherwise it would look strange, but…dang. You have stumped me with this incisive query.

  16. […] rather mumsy lately, aren’t they? Guess the Smallville costume designer went to the Splice-school of Sudden Moms Dress Old. Tess is called away by a hot scientist who tells Tess that she […]

  17. You are curious to find why?

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