Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley co-star in 'Splice,' a modern-day Frankenstein
It's been interesting to listen to the conversations about "Splice" in the few days since I saw it. Reactions have been fairly evenly divided, and the people who don't like it aren't really running down the filmmaking or the performances or the effects work used to bring Dren, the strange new life form at the center of the film, to such vivid and bizarre life. They just plain don't like the experience. I can see that. "Splice" is jet-black, especially with its sense of humor, and any time you mix sexuality into a horror film, people get weird about it. It plays on a level that some people's lizard brain just plain rejects. Too much chocolate in the peanut butter, so to speak.
I really liked "Splice,' and in the days since I saw it, I've been thinking about some of the images and ideas over and over, which is a good sign. There's a lot going on in the film, and it's the sort of thing that will play well a second or third time, as you're able to go back and really break down what it is Natali's doing in each movement of the film. I will admit that the first time I read the names of the characters played by Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley in the film -- Clive and Elsa -- I rolled my eyes and thought, "Oh, no, that's so obvious and on-the-nose cute, I hope the whole film is like that."
The thing is, Natali defuses it in the first scene, when we meet the first generation born-in-a-lab life forms that were created by the hotshot geneticists played by Brody and Polley. The monsters are called Fred and Ginger, and it's thrown away in a manner that lets you know that Natali thinks the naming is less important than what they do, that "cute" is a tendency most people can't resist when naming couples. Clive and Elsa are, of course, a reference to Colin Clive and Elsa Lanchester, who played Dr. Frankenstein and the Bride of Frankenstein in the 1935 masterpiece "The Bride Of Frankenstein," and that obvious joke is also a statement of mission: Natali knows exactly what story he's teling, and he wants to bring Mary Shelly's original concepts into the age where genetic miracles have become almost commonplace.
The film's greatest success is also the thing that it has to get right or the movie doesn't work on any level, and that's the design and execution of Dren, the first creature that Clive and Elsa create using human DNA. Basically, Fred and Ginger were built from the DNA of a dozen different animal species, and the next step, the research that Clive and Elsa are convinced is going to make them superstars, is taking the next step and adding human material to the next life-form they create. What they make, though, surprises and ultimately terrifies them, even if Natali manages to resist the rhythms that most filmmakers would have used in building the story. Dren's life-cycle is strange and always interesting to watch as she matures, and eventually Dren is playing by a French actress named Delphine Chanéac, combined with prosthetics and CGI. Dren works for me as a character from the start to the finish, each version of her making perfect sense to me as it gives way to the next one. Even if things never spun out of control, and boy do they, I would still think Dren's story was compelling and well-executed here, and that's unusual in genre fare.
Both Brody and Polley get what Natali is doing, and they negotiate some very tricky tonal material for him. This could easily collapse into a fat bag of ridiculous in several places, but Natali is sincere about the story even when he stages a grang guignol sequence of a science lecture gone horribly wrong or a twisted love scene. He knows how to create a tone where all of these outlandish things seem not only possible but inevitable. Polley in particular brings a very different energy to this than I've seen from her before, and I think it's some of the most overtly appealing work of her acting career. She seems to relish the role she's been given.
This film took forever to make it from script to screen, but it's worth the wait. Natali has always been a promising genre stylist, and even if I don't love every moment of "Cypher," "Nothing," or "Cube," those films displayed enormous promise. For me, "Splice" is the first film where that promise is fully rewarded, and everyone who helped Natali get this labor of love from womb to birth deserves a hand, because the movie feels uncompromised, genuinely transgressive at times, and smart in the ways it entertains. It's probably my favorite film from the midnights line-up at Sundance so far, and I hope some clever distributor cleans up with it in the US at some point this year.
Can't get enough of Motion/Captured? Don't miss a post with daily HitFix Blog Alerts. Sign up now.
Don't miss out. Add Motion/Captured to your iGoogle, My Yahoo or My MSN experience by clicking here.
Not part of the HitFix Nation yet? Take 90 seconds and sign up today.
1993 | Sports | PGSummary: Emotionally powerful sports classic featuring Sean Astin as a skinny high school kid with big football dreams and the determination to make his way towards his dream team at Notre Dame.Director: David Anspaugh
Cast: Sean Astin, Jon Favreau, Ned Beatty
2013 | Drama | RSummary: Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill have boundless energy in the story of a real-life commodities crook who earned millions through scummy small-time stock trades.Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie
2013 | Thriller | RSummary: Based on the true story of Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) a Miami bodybuilder who wants to live the American dream. He would like to have the money that other people have. So he enlists the help of fellow bodybuilder Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie) and ex-convict, Christian bodybuilder Paul Doyle (D...Director: Michael Bay
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Anthony Mackie, Tony Shalhoub
2007 | Comedy | PGSummary: Newlyweds Nick (Ice Cube) and Suzanne (Long) decide to move to the suburbs to provide a better life for their two kids. But their idea of a dream home is disturbed by a contractor (McGinley) with a bizarre approach to business.Director: Steve Carr
Cast: John C. McGinley, Ice Cube, Nia Long, Aleisha Allen
1995 | Mystery | NRSummary: Denzel Washington plays an out of work WWII vet who takes the wrong job and is soon neck-deep in a mess of politics, murder, and jazz in '40s Los Angeles.Director: Carl Franklin
Cast: Denzel Washington, Tom Sizemore, Jennifer Beals
1996 | Crime | RSummary: Jerry, a small-town Minnesota car salesman is bursting at the seams with debt... but he's got a plan. He's going to hire two thugs to kidnap his wife in a scheme to collect a hefty ransom from his wealthy father-in-law. It's going to be a snap and nobody's going to get hurt... until people start ...Director: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Cast: William H. Macy, Frances McDormand, Steve Buscemi, Peter Stormare
1997 | Crime | RSummary: Quentin Tarantino adaptats an Elmore Leonard novel into this story of a few increasingly desperate people scraping to get by. It has deep soul, a wicked sense of humor, and Samuel L. Jackson, Robert De Niro, Pam Grier, and Robert Forster.Director: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Pam Grier, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Forster
2008 | Science Fiction | PGSummary: Animated series continues the story of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker as they battle the Emperor Palpatine, Count Dooku and General Grievous, but also takes time to explore other smaller characters in the Star Wars universe.Director: George Lucas (creator)
Cast: Tom Kane, Dee Bradley Baker, Matt Lanter
2013 | Comedy | NRSummary: Insanely funny comedy show created by Amy Schumer, who stars in brilliantly funny sketches about sex, city living, dating, and friendship.Director: Daniel Powell, Amy Schumer (creators)
Cast: Amy Schumer, Kevin Kane, Mike Houston
Let Streaming Genie help you.