★★ / ★★★★
Most disappointing is the fact that Vincenzo Natali’s “Splice” really could have been about something. A few examples: the ethical and moral quandaries in regards to genetic engineering, the role of nature versus nurture in a controlled setting, what it means to be a biological versus adoptive parents, the clash when it comes to being a researcher holding a specific set of noble ideals while working for a corporation designed to rake in profits. Instead, the picture, by the third act, is reduced to a monster-of-the-week episode where our protagonists end up running in the woods and fighting for their lives. What a boring and tedious way to close a movie with potential.
It starts off with strong footing. Right away we have an appreciation of what biochemists Clive Nicoli (Adrien Brody) and Elsa Kast (Sarah Polley) hope to achieve: create a specimen made up of various animal DNA so that specific proteins from this organism can be extracted and be made into commercial drugs for livestocks. Brody and Polley being performers who excel at communicating plenty using only their eyes, we look at their characters and feel a strong drive to succeed, to push science to the precipice for the betterment of mankind. They don’t care much for money or fame or special treatment; priority is in making discoveries. These are curious characters—the desire to know being a strength and a weakness.
I enjoyed the look of the interiors, particularly of the state-of-the-art laboratories. Usually labs are shown as neat, tidy, spacious. Bright fluorescent lights erase all shadows. Here, spaces can be quite tight. Colleagues are within five feet of one another, people can wear a t-shirt to work, music can be blasted on the radio. Boxes tend to pile on top of another. There is a rush to get things done. There are some manual labor involved. As a person who works in a lab, I appreciated some level of realism; I caught myself smiling at times.
Even the creatures look terrific. The dog-sized, wormlike organisms are… cute in their own way even though they look slimy and gross. The way they move and the sounds they make command attention. We learn about how they are made and why; we observe some behavior and what males and females do when they meet for the first time.
More impressive is Dren (Delphine Chanéac)—a special case because not only is her DNA composed of various animals, she is also given human DNA. It is near impossible to look away, especially when Dren takes on a humanoid form. We gawk at her eyes and how far apart they are, her bald head and tail, her skin and how it resembles a mole rat, her bony legs. Clearly, a lot of thought and effort are put into how things should look.
But then there is the content of the picture. It doesn’t drill deeply enough. For instance, it touches upon the idea of Elsa being a mother figure but halfway through the picture, this curiosity is abandoned—then picked up again—whenever convenient. Then it jumps to Clive, once a figure to be feared by Dren because he believes that such an abomination should not have been created, becoming the synthetic creature’s object of desire. The screenplay by Natali, Antoinette Terry Bryant, and Doug Taylor presents an idea but doesn’t answer the question, “So what?” Consistently failing to take a concept to the next level breeds frustration because the plot is reduced to a series of events without rewarding payoffs.
“Splice” forgets what defines cautionary tales: the payoff. A movie that strives to make a statement can put all the pieces in the most precise positions for the sake of creating the greatest impact… but without the spark that tips the tile, the all-important payoff, the most elegant configurations are all for nothing. It cannot be denied that the movie’s third act is in desperate need of rewrite.