By Malice Intended for Planet Ill

The consequences for playing God can be dire. Genetic engineers Clive Nicoli (Adrien Brody) and Elsa Kast (Sarah Polley) are on the verge of making the biggest breakthrough in the history of their field. They ignore the legal and ethical constraints put on them and experiment with Human DNA, splicing it with the DNA of other species in order to create the ultimate hybrid. Initially working under the delusion that they are doing this for the benefit of science and that they can control the situation, they soon learn otherwise. Their creation, Dren (Delphine Chanéac), refuses to merely be contained and studied. Like all life forms, she longs to actually live.

Splice is the latest soon to be cult classic from writer/director Vincenzo Natali, who has traveled similar territory before with the sci-fi mindbender Cube. Splice is more in the body horror variety, though the focus is not on stomach churning effects as much as it is on disturbing possibilities. The rather typical idea of an experiment gone wrong is taken down some rather unexpected paths, resulting in a film that is familiar in its premise but still has the power to make us uneasy.

The cold, antiseptic visual palette is a mixture of blues, white and grays. The lab in which Clive and Elsa create Dren is about as inviting as an emergency room. The apartment they share together is one of the only other locations we ever get to see. This emphasizes the limits of Drens world. She is a living being, brought into this world through no fault of her own, yet forced to live under constraints suitable for pets and guinea pigs.

The understated special effects are used sparingly and effectively. Dren goes through many stages during her lifecycle, each one requiring slightly different CGI and prosthetics. The face of the actress is never completely obscured, allowing us to connect with Dren in way that is unusual for today’s special effects creations. As the film progresses, Drens design becomes more elaborate as each new experience uncovers a hidden ability.

Adrien Brody provides the film with its conflicted moral center. His sense of compassion overrides his ambition as a scientist, but he’s just not assertive enough. Sarah Polley keeps the audience guessing about Elsa. We see that her intentions are not pure, sensing something a bit more sinister in her interactions with Dren. As the adult Dren, Delphine Chanéac has the unenviable position of not letting the effects overwhelm her performance. Thankfully, she rises to the occasion.

If Splice has one flaw, it’s the rather implausible behavior exhibited by the principal characters at certain points. We understand the motivations well enough, but some of the conclusions and character arcs are reached a bit too quickly. The screenplay could have used a bit more refinement. That would have made the difference between a good film and a great one.

Splice is an eerie blend of sci-fi, horror and sexuality. It serves as a reminder that modern sci-fi need not always be a showcase for the big action sequences and the latest, shiniest technological innovations. Sci-fi feeds on ideas and works best as a study in human frailty. Even when pursued with the best of intentions, our dreams and ambitions rarely pan out the way we would hope. Splice explores the perverse underbelly of scientific study. 3.5 out of 5

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