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Splice (2010)

by on 2011/07/13

“If God didn’t want us exploring his domain, why did he give us the map?”

* * *

Before seeing Splice a few days ago, I knew only a few P.R. facts. Its stars were Sarah Polley (2004‘s Dawn of the Dead) and Adrien Brody (Predators). Its director, Vincenzo Natali, had directed the good-but-not-great Cube. The story was inspired by Frankenstein, with the creature a female named Dren (obviously “nerd” in reverse).

I didn’t know it was produced by Gru’s hero, Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy). Nor that Brody and Polley played characters named Clive and Elsa. Nor that Canadian actor David Hewlett was in it.

Unfortunately, none of these details distinguishes the average Splice from its peers.

Scientist couple, Clive Nicoli and Elsa Kast, are eccentric prodigies working for Newstead Pharmaceuticals. In a section called NERD (Nucleic Exchange Research and Development) they mix and match the genes of various creatures. Despite some profitable early success, they feel close to a larger discovery. Adding human material into the process results in a creepy new hybrid, Dren (Delphine Chaneac).

I immediately thought, when the baby was “born”, I would call this life form “kanga-shrew”, which is sort of what it resembles. Or maybe a “gerbil-roo”.

Later in her life cycle, Dren resembles a human crossed with a bird. Throughout, she appears mute, tittering like a Mogwai, though her chirruping coos are undercut by her unblinking intensity and darting. She’s not as sympathetic as the creation in Frankenstein, but she’s unnervingly compelling in her way.

However, a clear sign all was not well was my frequent sense of distraction. The telling caught my attention more than the tale. Clive! Elsa! I wanted to giggle in delight. (Colin Clive and Elsa Lanchester were actors in the Universal Horrors.) I was amused by their penchant for “high-sucrose foodstuffs”, the poster over their bed, and the fact that Dren had four fingers. I enjoyed puzzling out Brody’s novelty shirts.

Awesome! And I’m sure there are other bits I missed.

But — and this is a big one — anyone catching its references would also see how derivative Splice is. Whether in its main narrative, or at critical, pivotal points, the effort mimics many genre tropes. In my viewing, I found substantial elements from the following films or their series: Alien, The Fly (1986), Gremlins, Jurassic Park, King Kong, The (New) Outer Limits’ “Afterlife”, and Species.

Which isn’t to suggest it isn’t entertaining, and I’m not suggesting it’s “bad” or that it fails. Taking the best of other exemplars and adding an updated twist is essential to the long-term survival of anything, life or art alike. Doing so is no crime in itself. Still I longed for something more and, early on, it seemed poised to deliver.

Perhaps it depends on mood, or even expectations. I was hoping for an eXistenZ, but got a Species instead, a Fly without significant evolution. Splice is truly a Frankensteinian affair made of scraps from superior, er, donors.

* * *

Rated 14A (Canada) / R (United States)

104 minutes

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