28 July 2010

Variety is the Splice of Life- SPLICE Review

As something of a regular disclaimer, it's only my opinion here- others are available. As ever, mild spoilers may occur in the process of reviewing, but never so far as to spoil any major plot developments.

The one film that seems to have been overlooked upon its UK release, opening as it did alongside juggernauts like Toy Story 3, The Karate Kid and The A-Team (review coming on Friday), is Splice. In the vein of David Cronenberg's creature features, this is a film about the folly of geneticists Clive and Elsa playing God. When their corporate sponsors deny them the opportunity to experiment with human splicing, the couple work in secret and produce something incredible- a quickly evolving hybrid lifeform which they christen Dren.

To call Splice a film in the vein of Cronenberg is a compliment, the difference between homage and rip-off being, as with all critics, whether I like it or not. But it does have new tricks up its sleeve- perhaps not enough to be called entirely original but certainly enough to make it a thoughtful sci-fi parable. It counts Guillermo del Toro amongst its executive producers, and given his long-mooted desire to remake Frankenstein, there are no prizes for guessing the other major influence on the story.

What's refreshing about Splice is its oppositional spin on the "science gone wrong" subset. It doesn't blame all that inevitably goes awry about Dren's mere existence on scientific endeavour. Rather than being so backward thinking or conservative, the creators' folly is in how they nurture their creation, a point from Mary Shelley's original story that seems to have been lost in translation across the years. So many will instead say "Frankenstein is the real monster, for even doing this."

The trade-off for this accommodation of discovery and innovation is a curiously reactionary indictment of women. It's specifically Elsa's treatment of Dren that makes shit go wrong. An impressive Sarah Polley's character is played and written as motherly, as having viewed the process of creating this hybrid through a reluctant desire for motherhood. Of Adrien Brody's character, I probably shouldn't say a lot, lest I ruin one of the better plot twists in Splice. However, the representation of Elsa is perhaps the one thing that's skewiff in a film that otherwise has a remarkable common sense in its ethics and morality.

The other thing you can expect from a del Toro production is stunning visual effects, and Splice doesn't disappoint. Like Inception, it tempers CGI creations with dazzling practical effects, albeit on a much smaller scale and budget. The CGI foetal version of Dren metamorphoses into the ethereal and exotically attractive actress Delphine Chanéac, embellished with an alien quality by her shaven head and a couple of animated appendages. Her performance and Polley's are the standouts of Splice, and they keep you arrested throughout.

Not to damn it with faint praise, but Splice is a B-movie with brains. If that conjures images of a smarter Mega-Shark vs. Giant Octopus or Surf Nazis Must Die, remember the original meaning of the term- a film intended as the bottom part of a cinema double feature, less publicised than the main attraction. Although some will argue that a certain scene with Adrien Brody steers it into exploitation territory, this is a sci-fi parable of real ingenuity that isn't afraid to engage with its audience intellectually at the same time as deploying some stunning creature effects.

Splice is now showing in selected cinemas nationwide.
If and when you see Splice, why not share your comments on the film and/or my review below? And rejoice! Since I first saw BrodyQuest, it's the first Adrien Brody film I've watched without thinking of it once!

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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