Vincenzo Natali’s Splice (2009) crept into cinemas earlier this year well out of reach of most cinemagoer’s radars. Tackling some unsettling scientific ethics as well as grappling some thorny moral issues, Splice offers an engrossing and, rather uniquely, fresh story that sets it apart from most other recent cinematic releases.
When Clive Nicoli (Adrien Brody) and Elsa Kast (Sarah Polley) successfully create new life forms that promise to provide all kinds of medical advancements (in the guise of the rather slug-like Fred and Ginger), they find themselves mere steps away from splicing human and animal DNA together. After their proposals are spurned by their bosses in favour of a more money-earning line of work, they find their curiosity winning over their ethical ties, and soon they are brought face-to-face with an engineered life form well beyond that of either Fred or Ginger.
In fighting against their financial backers, Clive and Elsa inadvertently create “Dren”. Inexplicably fast, incredibly intelligent and sporting her very own wings and venomous tail, Dren is – in keeping with the film’s tone – uncannily creepy. Dren is just the right balance between human and animal to be uncomfortably close to home yet worryingly bestial, and her very existence questions the morality of human interference with natural evolution.
The relationship formed between Dren and her creators grows increasingly disturbing. When her growing fascination with Clive takes an unexpected turn, Splice’s central characters begin to cross lines that should never be crossed and, in turn, open up a further, intensely interesting scientific “can of worms”.
Natali (director of the Kafkaesque 1997 horror puzzle, Cube) expertly utilises the film’s understated special effects both wisely and convincingly. From the well-crafted intro (that cleverly uses X-Rays to introduce the film’s themes, as well as crediting the film’s stars) to the shocking ending that turns the intriguing moralistic didactic into all out, jaw-dropping horror, Splice is a beautifully paced film that manages to surprise and exceed expectations.
Some of the acting may be slightly over the top and its content not always optimised, yet Splice is nonetheless an incredibly thought-provoking attempt to blend together romance and tragedy with discovery and loss, whilst testing the “three’s a crowd” principle to its scientific limits.