Saturday, June 5, 2010


By Lars Trodson 

The most driving question behind the new horror flick “Splice” is this: Would two rock-star bio-scientists that have appeared on the cover of “Wired” drive around in a bright orange Gremlin with racing stripes? 

I don’t think there’s a logical answer to that, but then again there is very little about “Splice” that makes any sense. The movie is such a bundle of contradictory emotions -- none of which are handled well -- that the audience is left confused and ultimately defeated. At two key moments in the film the audience did not react with horror or shock but with laughter. What does that tell you? 

The movie itself is a mutant; a kind of genetic splicing of “Rosemary’s Baby” and David Cronenberg’s “The Fly.” In fact, this film owes a lot to Cronenberg. It has the flat, cheerless, angular feel of so many of Cronenberg’s early films. (“Splice” was shot in Canada). But that’s not really a compliment.  So what is happening here? Clive (a seriously floundering Adrien Brody) and Sarah Polley (much more focused than the material given to her) are geneticists who have helped spawn a mutant organism that is designed to provide the basic DNA to help fight disease throughout the world. 

However, the conglomerate they work for, Newstead Pharma, only wants them to concentrate on animal diseases. Elsa and Clive think they can help the human race. When this suggestion is rebuffed by the hard-nosed CEO (Joan Chorot), they perform a clandestine experiment which leads to the birth of a mutant child, whom they call Dren (Nerd spelled backwards!). That’s a bit of that fun bio-chem humor! 

The movie then spends the next 90 minutes trying to hide Dren away from the world. Polley, Brody and the actors who play Dren are virtually the only people in the film, and it’s a shame they are so tiresome. Director Vincenzo Natali brings not one iota of freshness to the proceedings.  Polley, despite being a genius scientist, has a penchant for using the word “fuck.” When watching newly spawned chromosomes “dance” on the computer screen, Elsa tells Clive that is he “Bob fucking Fosse!”  

When looking at photos of a new apartment, she says “Fucking love it!” 

Or, when Clive asks Elsa a question about protecting Dren, she responds, “Fuck! How?” Maybe this is screenwriter Natali and co-screenwriter Antoinette Terry Bryant’s attempt at character development. 

Clive, for his part, favors funky black tee shirts with cute sayings because, you know, he’s a genius who doesn’t take himself too seriously. And he drives an orange Pinto!  After Clive and Elsa repeat their endless and repetitive debates about whether bringing a mutant child with a deadly stingray tail into the world is ethical or not, the movie becomes seriously unhinged.  

Dren (played, while young, by Abigail Chu and when older by Delphine Chaneac) starts to grow up and she is increasingly frustrated by the fact that she is shut away from the world. Dren kills a cat with her tail. Elsa clocks Dren on the head with a shovel. Dren grows a pair of angel wings. And she falls in love with Clive.  Yep.  Although we’re told she is aging rapidly, the scenes in which Clive and Dren dance and begin to show affection for each other have that special Saturday Night Live-spoof feel to them that the best horror film directors always strive for.

The audience reacted to this tender moment appropriately: we all laughed and laughed. The scene in which Clive and Dren actually have sex, though, has a repugnant, ugly quality to it because this creature, Dren, is primarily portrayed as helpless and needy.  We discover that Elsa has mommy issues and that there may be other, Darker and More Mysterious Issues at play here than we originally thought. Dren’s “language”, a series of chirps and clucks, becomes mind-numbingly annoying.  But by this time the audience is well ahead of the filmmakers, and the whole enterprise comes to a predictable, deflating conclusion. Several members of the audience blurted out the obvious even before it happened, which was not so much to spoil it for the other members of the audience, but rather an attempt to communicate to the filmmakers that they had wasted our time and money. 

Well, they had, you know. 

I’ll tell you what did wig me out. A few seats down from me sat a woman who had taken off her shoes.

Several times during the film she obviously put her bare feet down on the movie theater’s filthy floor. 

Now that was creepy.