Splice is a 2009 film directed by the legendary director Vincenzo Natali, who surprised the world with his debut film Cube in 1997, shot with a ridiculous budget and now considered a real cult movie. Despite having been given higher budgets, afterwards none of his films was particularly successful and now, unfortunately, poor Natali can only work on television series. I’m talking about high quality series like Westworld and American Gods, but his last movie came out six years ago, which is a shame. But let’s get back to Splice, his most expensive film to date: he used $30 million and two outstanding actors like Adrien Brody (The Pianist, 2002) and Sarah Polley (Mi vida sin mí, 2003).
Two scientists, Elsa and Clive (Polley and Brody), are working with advanced cloning procedures to synthesize proteins useful for treating currently incurable diseases. Pressed by their own pharmaceutical company interested in making profits, the two step into the unknown and generate a creature using human DNA. Then, they must keep it hidden because it’s clearly a totally illegal procedure. The creature grows fast and changes the lives of the two scientists in a radical way…
The plot is naturally inspired by films like Frankenstein (1931) or The Fly (1958 and 1986), and it anticipated The Shape of Water (2007), shot by the same Guillermo Del Toro who’s among the executive producers of Splice. With references like this and two solid protagonists, why hasn’t anybody heard of Splice? Well, let’s say that the film isn’t what you could expect with such a premise. The pace is not tight, the characters are not entirely credible, and the scientific part of the story is really unconvincing, so much so that maybe it would have been better if Natali had gone into the fantasy realm (as Del Toro intelligently did some years later) .
While watching the film, one cannot help but think that we are facing the two most inept scientists in the history of science. Their decisions during the first stages of the experiment are terrible, so much so that you want to shout at the screen to dissuade them from doing what they are doing! In the finale, they then go beyond the incomprehensible, and the thin characterization of the protagonists doesn’t help shedding light on their behavior. Also, their experiment doesn’t have much scientific or pseudo-scientific credibility (already at the beginning of the movie with Fred and Ginger). Thus, the science-fiction part of the film is sub-par. Nor does it help that (spoiler alert from here on) the creature they call Dren (interpreted in its adult form by Delphine Chanéac) is something undefined: it grows fast, regenerates at will, changes sex, can fly, can live underwater… well, isn’t it a little too much? It’s not well defined, so it’s difficult to understand the rules of the pseudo-science governing the science fiction part of the plot.
But I don’t want to criticize a film that I don’t regret having seen and that I’d like to be more popular than it is! I would like to live in a world in which directors like Natali could have a constant stream of movies (together with Neil Marshall and Terry Gilliam, to make two more examples!). In such a world, we would have more original films in the cinema and less reboots, remakes and repetitive cinecomics! Splice remains an intelligent film that criticizes the pursuit of profit in the world of pharmaceutical companies, as well as the possible and dangerous lack of ethics in genetic and biomedical research. It does so with a story that doesn’t fully convince but that entertains, with a properly exploited budget spent in good actors and suggestive sets, a pleasant soundtrack, and convincing special effects (by the always excellent Greg Nicotero). It’s also a film that leaves you a little uneasy, reaching Cronenberg-like levels of morbidity. In short, I recommend it for sure, ciao!