Sundance Movie Review/Video Blog: Splice - It's Messed Up

Director Vincenzo Natali won plaudits for his low-budget 1997 film, Cube, in which he demonstrated an ability to create a moody, atmospheric thriller. This year, his sci-fi film Splice screened at Sundance. Having won some acclaim already at Sitges 2009, Splice was one of my most anticipated movies of the fest. Hit the jump to hear some of my thoughts on the film and watch a video discussion of the film with the guys at the blogger condo.

Elsa (Sarah Polley) and Clive (Adrien Brody) are a brilliant couple, biochemists who have figured out how to successfully combine different forms of animal DNA into a single creature. Their breakthroughs have many implications for the fields of science and health, but they have yet to crack the final frontier: an animal-human hybrid. When their superiors threaten to shut down their engineering project and put a stop to any further innovations, Elsa and Clive decide to take matters into their own hands.

For those interested, here's a clip from the beginning of the film:

I hadn't heard anything about the movie prior to my screening, so I was expecting a standard-issue monster horror film. What I can state confidently is that Splice is definitely not that. I don't really want to say much more about the plot details of the film, since for me, half the pleasure of watching it was derived from the fact that I had no idea where the story was going. But Splice is less a horror film and more a quasi-serious exploration into the implications of playing God.

In Jurassic Park, chaos theorist Ian Malcolm insists to entrepreneur John Hammond, "Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn't stop to think if they should." This sentiment is perfectly embodied in Polley's character Elsa, whose drive for scientific discovery is only matched by her reckless disregard of its consequences. In fact, both Elsa and Ed struck me as incredibly foolish and naive, the type of characters you scream at while you're watching them in horror films, as they make stupid decision after stupid decision despite the fact that they're supposedly geniuses.

But you shouldn't watch Splice for any of its subtle character work. Instead, embrace Natali's moody atmosphere and his fearlesness in bringing the story to places that are so messed up, the unpleasant images will sear their way into your long-term memory. I should note here that the special effects are spellbinding, recalling the resourcefulness seen in Neill Blomkamp's District 9. Natali used a nice balance of CGI and practical effects to make the creatures a convincing part of the film's world, and I think he definitely succeeds.

Splice takes all of its plot elements to their logical extreme, with twisted results. Several scenes in particular towards the end of the film are mildly troubling, so wild and outrageous that my audience actually burst out laughing. Still, I can't help but feel that anyone who tries to take this film seriously will have a great time in the way that Natali intended. This movie is great sci-fi, delving into the dangers of obsession, the excitement of scientific breakthrough, and the nature of life itself. For lovers of genre films and B-movies, it's a must-see.

In the following video, me and the guys at the blogger condo offer a few more thoughts on Splice.