Instant cult classic
Splice invades this bland summer movie season like an insane, confused partygoer told she was attending a Halloween masquerade ball rather than a friendly barbecue. It’s a crazy film likely to alienate those who prefer formulaic horror—I’m talking to you, Saw fans!—while pleasing those who like outlandish horror.
By outlandish horror, I mean something equally scary and outrageously funny, the prime example of this probably being Peter Jackson’s unbelievably gross and hilarious Dead Alive (1992).
As I watched Vincenzo Natali’s Splice, I found myself laughing one second and cringing with nausea the next. This is the sort of movie I would expect to go straight to video, not because it isn’t a good movie, but because mainstream audiences generally aren’t expected to handle material like this. It’s horror for genre nerds and geeks like me.
Here’s a film that takes an inquisitive look at the boundaries and barriers that have made horror films so bland and routine in recent years, and then blasts those roadblocks with steel-toed boots and sledgehammers.
Clive and Elsa, romantically involved celebrity scientists (played by Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley), have been mixing animal DNA in order to create strange mutant creatures. They are huge larvae-type things that look like they were borrowed from a David Cronenberg film, capable of producing unique and valuable proteins for the medical world. These proteins could help cure for many diseases, so the moral and political implications of what they are doing are overshadowed by the practice’s worth to the health of humanity. After all, human DNA isn’t involved, right?
Well, that’s the next step the two want to take, but their corporate bosses, afraid of the political firestorm it might cause, deny them the chance. That doesn’t stop the two from inserting a little human DNA into the experiment behind closed doors, just to see what might happen.
Mighty big things do happen in the form of a creepy and beautiful creature named Dren. Dren starts out looking like an earless, hairless jackrabbit, but quickly evolves into a bald, scorpion-tailed beauty (played mischievously by Delphine Chaneac), an unholy amalgam of Sinead O’Connor, Jeanne Tripplehorn and a Siamese cat. Throw in a surprise set of wings, and you have a truly original horror entity.
Much of Splice’s success rests squarely on the shoulders of its three central performers. Brody and Polley’s characters, despite their professional and intellectual successes, are severely damaged goods, and their behavior becomes increasingly selfish and erratic. Polley’s Elsa regresses to the evils of her control-freak mother, at first coddling Dren but then confining and even torturing her when she fails to follow orders. Brody’s Clive proves to be one altogether sick monkey, culminating in a scene that provides one of cinema’s all-time greatest “Busted!” moments.
Heaps of unabashed applause towards Chaneac, whose monster performance I will place alongside the first appearances of Michael Meyers, Freddy Krueger and Frankenstein. When Dren switches modes from chirpy childlike wonder to more adult cravings, it’s the stuff of nightmares. And, somehow, Chaneac makes her a monster to root for.
A glance at the credits shows that the film’s ’80s horror vibe is no mistake. Among the crew handling the special effects makeup are none other than Howard Berger and Gregory Nicotero, whose combined resumes include Evil Dead II, Day of the Dead—still my pick for horror cinema’s greatest gore moments—and the original Predator. A lot of hands worked on the creation of Dren and her sick ways, but those two names are standouts for sure. Seeing their names in the opening credits let me know I was in for something good and disgusting.
Some might think Splice fails at its horrific aspirations because they found themselves and those around them at the theater laughing too much. There are moments in this movie so deranged and sick one can only laugh. Laughter becomes a defense mechanism during this sort of viewing experience.
While I don’t think mainstream audiences are going to take to Splice all that much this summer, the movie will probably enjoy some decent word of mouth and home video success. I for one am grateful that something has come along to break up the stale monotony of this summer movie season brought upon us by the likes of Robin Hood, Prince of Persia and Sarah Jessica Parker. While Dren is supposed to be the monster of the bunch, those entities are the ones that have been slowly killing me.