Review of Splice
June 18, 2010
Scientists testing the boundaries of what is possible find themselves walking the line of what is ethical in Splice
Scientists testing the boundaries of what is possible find themselves walking the line of what is ethical in Splice. This science fiction “thriller” lacks thrill but makes up for what it lacks with countless poorly acted uncomfortable scenes that suffer from bad direction and impressively dreadful special effects. Making it even worse is the underlying plot themes which are in a tug of war with the plot itself.
Scientific team Clive (Adrien Brody) and Elsa (Sarah Polley) cross a natural divide when they create a brand new species, made from splicing together the genes from different animals. For Elsa, creating a new animal to create pharmaceuticals for animals wasn’t far enough. She convinces her partner to take the forbidden step: splicing human genes with animals. Their dalliance into semi-human cloning spins out of control, taking their lives with it.
About half an hour into Splice, I started to get disoriented. It seemed like two stories were happening at the same time to the same characters. I do not mean that the writers deliberately attempted to mess with the timeline. Rather, it seems that two people wrote the same story from different perspectives, trying to shove them together into one story—much the same way Christians make one story of Genesis One and Genesis Two.
From one perspective, this is a story about what it is to be human, discovering how much of human genetics it takes to be considered a human, and the ethics of human cloning. It delves into what parts of us are essentially human and what can be discarded as simply animal. There are more than a few discussions about the role of scientists, how far we should push science in the name of progress, and where their responsibility starts and ends.
The other perspective is bent on making things as bloody, outlandish, mindless, childish, macabre, and simplistic as possible. The creatures in Splice are constantly in flux, their nature off-limits to the audience. Blood is poured into scenes like a child in charge of the chocolate sauce on his ice cream. There is a heavy dependence on visual shock, much the same way horror movies use kill scenes to create emotional reactions from the audience. Instead of relying on the plot to keep the audience in suspense, visual wrenches were thrown at our heads.
This is either the worst case of no oversight or studio meddling I have ever seen. Vincenzo Natali was one of the writers of the story and screenplay and the director of Splice. Antoinette Terry Bryant also wrote both the story and screenplay. When the same person is in charge of multiple aspects of a film, there is no collaborative editing and oversight, and often, atrocious decisions are not challenged. Sometimes, when a studio is not confident with the potential draw of a story, they will add bits to make it more interesting to a typical audience. I don’t know which happened here, and I don’t care. The failure happened before I had to watch it.
Splice’s dissociative plot frustrated me because the parts of the film that delved into the relevant and timely question of the difference between scientific progress and immoral deed are important discussions for those of us who espouse the beauty of scientific discovery to have with each other. Many in the scientific community feel that we may be standing on the precipice of knowledge and application. Aubrey de Grey thinks some of us who are alive now may never know natural death. Genetic diseases may be running for their lives as we chase them down with genetically-based cures. People are attempting to clone whole and parts of human beings right now. Our methods of farming are depleting Earth, but the population is still growing. We are getting more efficient at killing each other and Earth with our machines. It seems that the gap between what we want and can do using science is narrowing. It is becoming more necessary to ask ourselves if we should be doing something because the question of if we can do it is becoming less relevant.
The acting in Splice is equally disjointed. Adrien Brody, who plays a rebellious, off-kilter scientist, never failed to capture my attention. He engaged me in his character, and his heartfelt portrayal made me fall in love with him. Sarah Polley, who plays his personal and professional partner, acted as if someone was dragging her down the stairs by her feet—painful, inconsistent, and jerky. Delphine Chanéac, who plays Dren, a character introduced about halfway through the story, is a horror. Her performance relies 100 percent on body language, and it comes across like a mix between physical Ebonics and movement hillbilly.
And trust me, Vincenzo Natali doesn’t miss an opportunity to be bipolar. The visual effects, both computer generated and not, bounced about, landing on all the territories between passable and pathetic.
Splice dives head first into the shallow end of examination. It would have been far more kind of the director and writers to either lower the diving board of expectation or dig a deeper themed pool. When I left I was all wet and had an intellectual compound spinal fracture from the drop.