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Review: ‘Splice’

Transcending the Horror Genre

Sarah Polley confronts her creation in

Credit: Warner Brothers

Above: Sarah Polley confronts her creation in "Splice"


Review: 'Splice'

Splice” (opening June 4 in select theaters) is a thinking person's horror film. This new movie from producer Guillermo Del Toro is more for fans of the old Universal horror films than of the recent spate of gorefests.

The film “Splice” has been gestating for more than a decade. When Canadian filmmaker Vincenzo Natali conceived the idea it was science fiction but now it has become more of science fact.

ELSA: If we don’t use human DNA now someone else will.

CLIVE: Human cloning is illegal.

ELSA: This won’t be human… entirely.

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Warner Brothers

Sarah Polley and Adrien Brody play scientists in "Splice"

Natali’s story involves a pair of scientists played by Adrian Brody and Sarah Polley. In their lab they create a new life form.

ELSA: [patter of feet] Clive!

CLIVE What happened?

ELSA: It’s alive.

VINCENZO NATALI: They really embrace the technology they are in fact voracious and fearless when it comes to this stuff they just want to jump in with both feet.

CLIVE: I feel like a criminal.

ELSA: Scientists push boundaries at least the important ones do.

That’s what good horror does too. It pushes boundaries. That’s what makes it scary and once you break the rules it’s hard to turn back.

CLIVE: Sticking to a few rules isn’t a bad idea either.

ELSA: Nobody is going to care about a few rules after they see what we made… could they look at this face and see anything less than a miracle?

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Warner Brothers

The creature Dren in "Splice"

The miracle they create is a creature known as Dren. For the film, Natali used an actress and subtle CGI work to create something beguiling rather than horrific.

VINCENZO NATALI: My feeling was that small changes to the human form are much more shocking than big ones. And so we were quite subtractive, we took things away from our performer’s body rather than adding things on.

But Natali is interested in more than just how Dren looks. He’s interested in creating a sympathetic monster… at least initially.

VINCENZO NATALI: Our film is very much about finding the humanity in the monster and finding the monster in the humans.

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Warner Brothers

Delphine Chanéac as Dren and Sarah Polley as Elsa in "Splice"

In that respect, Natali’s film has much more in common with James Whale’s “Frankenstein” of the 1930s than with contemporary horror films or even the science gone wrong films of the 1950s. “Splice” is not about science gone wrong but rather about how human failings can impact the scientific process.

VINCENZO NATALI: This is a story about two scientists who create something that while it begins as an experiment it really becomes their child and as it grows and it grows very quickly, that relationship becomes complicated because the child becomes something that is quite beautiful.

ELSA: You know I love you, you are a part of me and I am a part of you.

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Warner Brothers

Delphine Chanéac as the creature Dren in "Splice"

And here’s where “Splice” diverges from the horror formula. It’s not about a creature escaping into the world to wreak havoc but rather it turns inward to deliver a family psycho drama.

VINCENZO NATALI: It is about all my fears of parenting.

But just as Elsa and Clive cross the line in their work and make bad professional decisions, so too do they come up short as parents. The horror story here becomes that of a dysfunctional family with questions about nature versus nurture. On the nature side, there’s the possibility that Dren got DNA from someone who was mentally unstable. But on the nurture side we discover that Elsa’s childhood may have ill-prepared her for being a good mother.

VINCENZO NATALI: Elsa has some real horror in her life and it has to do with her mother and we don’t know exactly what transpired but we know it was bad. And it inevitably comes back to haunt her when she creates Dren.

This focus on relationships allows “Splice” (rated R for disturbing elements including strong sexuality, nudity, sci-fi violence and language) to transcend the horror genre and the expectations for what a film like this might be. It offers horror at its best – smart, provocative, beautiful, and terrifying.

Companion viewing: "Frankenstein," "Mimic," "The Fly" (either version)

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