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FILM: Splice

Written by Marcus Campbell on August 12, 2010

Directed by Vincenzo Natali
Starring Adrien Brody, Sarah Polley,  Delphine Chanéac, Abigail Chu

More a gross-out horror/ monster flick than the sci-fi marketing would suggest, Splice feels both refreshingly original but hauntingly familiar. Its timing could not be more perfect in our literal world where scientists are toying with ideas of GM babies and gene splicing, while pushing the boundaries of genetic science with intention of saving countless lives from diseases. Splice takes you on a grotesque journey to where curiosity gets the better of the moral outrage, slicing open genetic science to illustrate its potential for horror and evil if uninhibited by regulatory barriers.

The narrative intimately follows Elsa and Clive (Sarah Polley, Adrien Brody), who are pioneering genetic scientists that have found a way to develop a protein by manipulating the DNA of different animal species to create new organisms. They feel they’ve reached their potential in animals as their protein would be somehow better with the addition of human DNA. The company they work for, usefully titled N.E.R.D, decides against this and the pair decide to go renegade to achieve their ends. Initially just planning to prove that they could get a successful splice on a cellular level, Elsa eats the forbidden fruit and adds it to the experiment, implicating her partner (and of course- lover) Clive who has more than one chance to end the whole thing.

What is created is a literary goldmine for feminist film academia. The feminine “Dren” (nerd backwards) is born, which is an unsettling mix of slender human and jarring extraordinary animal traits along with a spike for a tail that acts as a defence mechanism. She is highly sexualised in a way that brings Giger’s Alien creation to mind, but more intelligent and far harder to find ugly. Born with an interesting connection to Elsa, she quickly grows, learns and eventually matures along the lines of a normal human child and it is horrifyingly easy to understand why Elsa and Clive form a parental connection over her. Whether for science or their own ends, killing something so human still seems abject to them.

Since the 70’s, psychoanalytic theories have been applied to certain parts or conventions in cinematic horror with various levels of usefulness. Influential scholar Barbara Creed argued that female sexuality and reproduction has been defined on the screen as monstrous, disturbing and ultimately non-human, something that should be repressed and the horror film sets right. For decades, Freudian theories that have become quite useless in practical psychology, film theorists have been finding creative and exaggerated versions of his world view. Without giving too much away, Splice seems to be created with all this in mind, or perhaps a mind for the early horror that had little inhibitions about grossing audiences out with some seriously twisted events.

All the thrills and disgusting spills of Freud’s Electra complex are experienced by Dren and are amplified because of her unique nature along with her accelerated evolutionary journey and the hormonal nightmare that causes. In her short-lived youth, she wakes up to her parent’s lovemaking right outside her bedroom, Antichrist anyone? From the beginning to the very end, there are scenes in Splice that will keep you unnerved for days. A strange castration scene epitomises the awesome power of this film to keep you horrified at both the monster and humankind, not aligning you with any position the entire runtime. The symbolic natures of the monster and the Elsa character are open to interpretation but little else leaves you with a sick feeling deep inside.

The one problem of this strange film is that it gets a bogged down at times with examining all this. The development of Dren is fascinating for the most part and the suspense is like a ticking bomb that the audience knows will go off at any second.  However, the closed spaces that the film inhabits (there are barely 5 speaking parts in the whole film) makes the fantasy slip and ultimately frustrate with such weight on the lead roles.  Most might find themselves cringing at the naivety and single-mindedness of Elsa and Clive and hope they get tortured by the end just so they learn their lesson. Thankfully the beauty of Splice is that it punishes the audience with visual horrors just as much as it does to its Adam and Eve in the physical.

You will love this if: You are over predictable horror and would like to give your psychoanalytic brain a work out.

You will hate this if: You can’t handle genetic experiments and weird sex stuff.

Splice is now showing on a limited release

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