Monday, June 7, 2010
Sure, they're cute when they're small, but...
Film Review - SPLICE (2009)
Directed by Vincenzo Natali
Screenplay by Vincenzo Natali, Antoinette Terry Bryant & Doug Taylor
I don't worry about what will happen to this technology in the hands of someone evil. I worry about what will happen in the hands of someone good. - The Twilight of the Golds
I'm tempted to sum up this review of Splice by saying, "It's Canadian," and then go out for a beer. We're talking a different cinematic aesthetic when it comes to our neighbors from the north, one that is instantly recognizable to anyone familiar with David Cronenberg. It is austere, reserved, and despite its dependency upon the "Ick" Factor, it is more interested in planting ideas within your brain that explode days later with unnerving results. And since Cronenberg has been moving away from and beyond his explorations of "The New Flesh," Splice seems designed to fill that void. Yes, it deals with manipulations of the biological, and perversions of the psychological, but it also opens up a wealth of questions that go far beyond the moral and ethical ramifications of improvising recipes in God's Kitchen. And like its central character, it grows on you.
That character, as you are certainly well aware by now, is Dren, the end result of a ribonucleic cocktail mixed up in secret by biochemists Clive (Adrien Brody) and Elsa (Sarah Polley). They are rejoicing in the breakthrough of creating new life in the forms of oversized slugs Fred and Ginger, from which their corporate underwriters shall wring untold scientific advancements for livestock. But Elsa dreams of more, wanting to introduce human DNA into their experiments, and foreseeing advancements against a host of diseases, including cancer. Independent of the Suits, they create a mewling, chittering whatzit that has all the pathetic charm of a baby seal on two legs. Dren (it's their lab's acronym spelled backwards) is growing at an accelerated rate, and since it is a composite of several organisms, it has the eerie tendency to surprise (granted, sometimes when the screenplay requires it, but let's not linger). Elsa is imprinted upon Dren, and their relationship, at first that of a pet and owner, soon mutates into something much more maternal in nature. And while Clive's first instinct was to kill the creature at birth, his relationship to it evolves in ways that are both understandably natural and unnatural.
And so we have a triangle of shifting allegiances. Dren-Pet becomes Dren-Child, and becomes...well, I'll leave it at that. But once the scientists move her - and it is most definitely a She - out of the lab and into the isolated barn on Elsa's childhood home, any pretense of scientific exploration is quickly dispatched. Dren is a creature of emotion, and the pair react to her emotionally. And Elsa, still nursing damage from her abusive past, learns that there is a hefty price to be paid when one puts too much of oneself into work.
I find that, since I've seen Splice, it's not the issues of genetic engineering and its repercussions that are lingering with me; this is well-plowed ground. It's the kinky metaphor for parenthood that works on a multitude of layers that I found most provocative. Clive and Elsa are young hipsters, celebrated on the cover of Wired magazine, who may say they have altruistic moments, but really just want to take their high-tech Tinkertoys and make up cool stuff. And even after Dren enters the world, is what was at first a new "puppy" adequate preparation for the responsibilities of parenting? Especially a child that needs to eat a woodland creature every now and then?
Brody's Clive is the sketchier of the two scientists, but as the pseudo-father, this is understandable. As Elsa, Sarah Polley has the greater dramatic lifting to pull off (she says they don't have a real child in part because she would be the one stuck with raising it), and her character has to go through more pronounced swings, one of which is horrifying clinical. But the film's star is Dephine Chaneac as Dren who, with the assistance of a top-notch sound design, plays a prefab ingenue you wouldn't want to meet in a darkened Canadian barn. It's also a testament to the top-notch effects that I quickly stopped searching for any seams in the CGI and accepted the character as a living and breathing entity in the real world. Much credit must go to director Natali (whose name ironically means "birth") for keeping the project from spinning off into lurid pulp, only allowing the movie to move to Booga-Booga Mode for the final reel.
If Splice left me a bit unsatisfied at its finale, it's only because I wanted more of what it offered, as it strives to cram so much into its 104 minutes. But unlike the latest overstuffed atrocity from Michael Bay, it's not packed with explosions and effects, but ideas. And great gosh a'mighty, when was the last time you saw a movie - ANY movie - that could make that claim?