Dude, I feel like my head is really small

When I was a kid, I had a large box of crayons (white crayon, why are you so useless?).  I drew all kinds of things.  I drew Godzilla rising from the sea, jaws wide, preparing to eat a boat.  I drew Frankenstein’s monster rampaging around a flattened countryside that looked more horrible than the monster itself.  I’d also make my own monsters, usually by playing mix and match with the bits and pieces of various creatures; people with dog heads, cats with bat wings, sharks that could roam the land on stout bear legs, rats with tiny human faces – all rendered in the confusing mish-mash of profile and full frontal view that characterizes the drawings of children.  It’s a game I still play from time to time, only I draw a little better now.  Maybe you did or do something like that too?

Vincenzo Natali, Antoinette Terry Bryant and Doug Taylor apparently like to play that game too, only they don’t use crayons, they use screenplays.  They don’t color.  They Splice.

Elsa Kast (Sarah Polley) and Clive Nicoli (Adrien Brody) are a pair of young attractive uber-brilliant geneticists; they are rockstars in the science community.  They’ve even made the cover of Wired.  Oh, and one more thing, they’re married to each other.  All that nerdy wish fulfillment takes me out of the story for a moment.  Then I remind myself that this is science FICTION, and fall back into the story.

So Elsa Kast and Clive Nicoli head up a research team,  Nucleic Exchange Research and Development, or N.A.M.B.L.A. . . . er . . . I mean, N.E.R.D. Nerd. That gets a little chuckle from me, though I know that no chemical or bioresearch company, such as the one funding Kast and Nicoli’s lab, would allow a bunch of science geeks to get away with that sort of in-joke, it might freak out the investors.   Humorless greedy investment swine aside, our heroes and their N.E.R.D. lab partners create a new lifeform, a slug that not only makes cute chirpy noises but also secretes  chemicals that make carrots addictive and  lima beans taste like pumpkin pie.  The company and their evil friends at the Lima Bean and Carrot Marketing Institute are overjoyed.  It turns out that the company staked a considerable amount of its resources developing a bunch of stupid products, like Viagra for cats or something, and is on the verge of going nipples up.  They need these new slugs to whip out something that can be brought to market tout d’ suit. Instead, Kast suggests they take the next leap forward and start making more interesting creatures using human DNA.  Smelling a potential public relations nightmare, as well as a seeing a huge delay in converting research into cash, the business monkeys put the kibosh on that and insist that Kast and Nicoli change gears an take a more applied route.

Kast, having none of that “take the safe and well lighted path” nonsense, goes the Peter Cushing route, and begins to screw around in God’s domain – bigtime.  She and Nicoli set up some experiments in secret, leaving their team to work out what to do with the slug juice.  At first, they just want to see if they can make a viable embryo with a Hungarian goulash of DNA that includes human stuff.  The embryo grows more rapidly than they anticipate, which starts to freak Nicoli out.   Kast, more curious than politic, presses forward, dragging Nicoli with her,  until monster mayhem ensues.

A few people have compared to Splice to Alien, which is far fetched since they are nothing alike except that each film has a creature and a company involved in bio research.  The same could be said of Joan Rivers, and nobody compares her to AlienSplice, if anything, is a retelling of Frankenstein with Sarah Polley cast in he role of the myopic, driven scientist.  Even though she shares top billing with Adrien Brody, this totally Sarah Polley’s movie and she hits it out of the park.  Honestly, Polly’s Dr. Kast is one of the best written and best acted “mad” scientists in movies since Colin Clive belted out “It’s Alive! It’s Alive!” to the heavens in 1931. Kast is a dynamic character. Everyone and everything else in the movie moves because she’s pushed it or it’s trying to push her back.

This is not to say that Adrien Brody mailed it in or anything.  He and Polley work well together on screen, but his character is secondary, as is Dren (Delphine Chanéac), the creature with the big eyes, winning smiles and poisonous barbed tail that they create in their laboratory.

Splice is loaded with all sorts of wild Freudian baggage and gender issues that could spark an entire semester long debating point for a college Women’s Studies or Psychology class. If you’re taking an advanced class in one of those fields, bring Splice to class; it’ll be like tossing a baby to a pack of hungry dingos. I know that sounds a little flippant, but it’s true.  Splice doesn’t take the Frankenstein story to the same old “Do not play in God’s domain” place it’s usually taken.  Instead, Splice uses the Frankenstein story as a path to get to all sort of strange places, that I’m going to skip on enumerating in the interest of not going to Spoilerland.  Often movies like this will have a message, but I’m not so sure that Splice does. It seems to content itself with bringing up a variety of difficult issues, setting them out for display, letting you mull it over for yourself. That’s what good art does.

The typical sci-fi movie goer is going to want to know about the creature effects.  So how were they?  Good, very good, in fact, though rather CGI heavy, which is a bit of a pet peeve of mine.  Rather than create Dren from whole cloth, the CGI is used, for the most part, to augment Delphine Chanéac’s appearance.  Most of what is on screen is the actress herself.  Also, I don’t recall seeing any bad CGI blood effects that plague so many horror films today.

Well paced and intense, Splice feels even shorter than its compact 104 minute run time.  I must confess that I didn’t like the ending.  The last ten minutes of the movie seemed like something, story-wise, that was hammered in because they had no other way to end it.  Then again, I could be totally wrong.  Either way it didn’t spoil what was otherwise a good movie.

The WTF Moment: There is a montage showing the Kast and Nicoli  hard at work, with industrial music in the background.  The very end of this scene has one of my favorite WTF moments ever.

Sarah Polley
Adrien Brody

Vincenzo Natali

Vincenzo Natali
Antoinette Terry Bryant
Doug Taylor

Three out of five Vincents

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