dir: Vincenzo Natali
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Ah, Canadians. They make different films from the rest of the world, don’t they? Even though almost every single Hollywood flick that gets made seems to get made in Canada, there is a world of difference in style and sensibility between the two rival North American empires.
Vincenzo Natali came to prominence when he made a flick called Cube oh so long ago now. Whatever its merits, a lot of people talked about the flick for long enough that it established a career for what I’m sure is a sweet, sweet man (for all I know he stabs puppies in his spare time).
He has a reputation for make relatively low-budget high concept science fiction flicks that are ultimately, in my humble opinion, thoroughly ridiculous. The ridiculousness doesn’t completely detract from the interesting elements of his flicks, because he knows how to put them together in a competent fashion. Yet something always happens to make you doubt your commitment to his singular lunacy at some stage of his flicks. Like night following day, like hangover following binge, his flicks always, always go wrong at some point. It’s a lovely kind of wrongness, however.
Cube seemed to be going okay until a last minute decision was made to have a character go bugfuckingly insane for no reason and start killing people for no reason. Cypher seemed to be going okay until Lucy Liu’s character started talking. Nothing, well, his film called Nothing was nuts from the start, but at least it was enjoyable for what it was: a completely nuts story about two loser guys who accidentally destroy the entire universe. Don’t think that I didn’t notice one of the main characters here wearing a Nothing t-shirt for most of the film, Vincenzo, you self-promoting shill.
The moment where Splice goes wrong is arguable. What isn’t arguable is that it does go wrong, and irredeemably so, but there’s going wrong and then there’s going wrong in such a spectacular fashion that it becomes more memorable than if you’d done it right. It’s like the difference between crashing your car into a wall at 15 kilometres an hour, versus drunk driving an aircraft carrier carrying a thousand sports stars and celebrities on fire into a thousand orphanages.
There’s jumping the shark, there’s screwing the pooch, and, thanks to Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Please Gods Make It Stop Crystal Skull, there’s nuking the fridge. I hesitate to try to attain a future consensus that the phrase “fucked the mutant” should be added to that illustrious line-up of immortal phrases for fucking up royally, but I do humbly submit it for your consideration.
Splice is a cautionary tale, as are most science fiction tales, regarding the hot button issue of genetic engineering. Even worse, or more timely, it posits the what if? regarding the creation, by two scientists, of an unholy chimera that contains human DNA. It’s also an unavoidable commentary on parenthood, on the terror inherent in become a parent for the first time, and how your children inevitably try to kill you.
Oh, and then there’s the whole horrifying Electra complex thing as well…
They, the scientists, start off modestly enough, humbly even. They, being Elsa and Clive, played by Sarah Polley and Adrien Brody respectively, named after the two actors that played Dr Frankenstein and the Bride of Frankenstein way back in the 1930s film that probably no-one remembers, start off by creating these horrible lump creatures they call Fred and Ginger.
These horrible lumpen creatures have DNA from five other species, possibly some plant stuff thrown in there for good measure, and have been created with the intention of synthesising proteins for a pharmaceutical company.
I don’t know why they’re considered to be the top of their field, because Clive and Else have created the two ugliest looking giant haemorrhoids that I’ve seen on display since the last Federal election. All the same, the company ominously praises them whilst threatening them with dire financial repercussions if they don’t get to the next stage of development by isolating some protein that they need.
Elsa and Clive aren’t drab labcoat wearing-drones, happy to squander their remaining time on this planet sequencing animal DNA and spitting in the face of God for profits alone. They want to get to the next level, they want to take it up a notch, and they want to do something they’re going to be remembered for.
As such, for reasons that seem like they might have a scientific progress sheen on them as possessing some believable motivation, but are really about doing something ludicrous for our benefit as viewers, at Elsa’s instigation, they combine the hybridised DNA of the five animals with a human ovum.
You know as well as I do that it’s a bad idea, regardless of where you stand on the issue of genetic engineering, human experimentation or scientists play gods for their own amusement or to work out their own childhood issues. But they do it anyway, because you don’t have much of a film if people act sensibly all the time. The film would have been three minutes long, with a few scenes of scientists ethically deciding against doing anything insane, being driven home to their palatial mansions in their Bentley limousines, being waited on hand and foot by hot supermodels of all genders, and falling into a blissful sleep after rubbing themselves in relevant places with their Nobel prizes.
Oh, the life of a scientist is grand.
Instead, these shmucks decide they’ll be able to hide from the world a curious creature that is part-girl, part-monkey, part-scorpion, part-frog and part-some flying frilly creature. She’s the best that science can construct at this stage.
And, boy, does she grow fast. And she’s smart, too. She’s so smart that she can spell out how hanging around in dingy dungeons and gloomy sheds doing nothing is tedious using some Scrabble tiles. She learns how to have sex just from watching Elsa and Clive go at it like sedated weasels. And she can do a whole lot of horrible things at a moment’s notice, not the least of which is completely changing gender at will.
Of course a lot of it seems like it’s a horror flick, that’s undeniable. There are parts that reminded me strongly of Alien/Aliens, Species and a few other flicks where pregnancy is equated with some kind of demonic possession/infection. It’s a unique kind of body horror (not unique to this movie, I mean unique to this genre in film) which stems from the anxiety, or unease with both the concept of a parasite growing inside one’s self, and the fear of one’s offspring becoming a monster.
As a parent, I can totally relate. Elsa, here, is shown as having some very screwed-up issues which come to the fore in her ‘parenting’ of chimera Dren (Delphine Chaneac). There’s a particularly bleak scene when the scientist couple smuggle Dren to a property somewhere in the boondocks where Elsa’s mother lived up until her death. Upon viewing what was Elsa’s childhood bedroom, consisting of a rotting bunch of rags in the shape of a mattress, and some pail or saucepan for a chamberpot, Clive remarks “I thought you said your mother left your room just the way it was.” To which Elsa deadpans “She did.”
Elsa’s wavers between being incredibly protective of Dren, to being viciously callous towards her. We’re meant to think that the abuse hinted at in her own childhood is responsible, but there’s so much other stuff going on. Clive changes from wanting to murder Dren, to feeling compassion towards her, to doing the unmentionable with something that should never have existed.
They, being the people doing the effects, do a very good job with the CGI making Dren never look too human, with her three-fingered hands and feet / legs like a bird/ kangaroo, and a generally alien manner and appearance. Although the flick definitely crosses the line of good taste (actually, it rubs up against the line seductively before ejaculating all over it), and discards the serious ethical considerations of what these two mad scientists have wrought, it doesn’t stint on repercussions for their actions. There’s no doubting that the flick thinks this kind of engineering of a human/whatever hybrid is profoundly wrong, but the further (and I guess cinematically interesting) wrongness comes from how they deal with Dren, more so than the horrible things Dren ends up doing.
Adrien Brody is capable of overacting at the drop of a tube of hair gel, but he generally does okay except in these moments where he acts not like a scientist dealing with the impossible would act, but acts like an American Oscar winner playing a scientist like a mobster. Sarah Polley is just about perfect in anything she does, and no less here. Even when I can’t believe some of the things her character does, I still believed Polley’s convictions about the part. She wavers between taking it seriously and treating it as the shlock lunacy that it truly exhibits. In reality, they’re treating it like little more than a Troma film production with a bit better budget and some Quebecois accents, which is all it deserves.
I enjoyed it. It’s probably a silly flick deep down, and I’m never going to watch it again, and I wonder how much more horrifying it could have been, or disturbing in David Cronenberg’s hands. There’s enough of the horror of the body, human or not, with enough phallic imagery to delight even more people than just Canadians.
And the ending? Damn, that’s nasty, with final words from Elsa that indicate the eternal hubris of the arrogant scientist, or the one female survivor of a horror flick, take your pick, fans of genetic/ethics horror flicks, you lucky so-and-sos.
6 times I didn’t know whether to laugh or cringe multiple times out of 10
“How did you know she could breathe underwater? You knew, right?”
- “Uh, right. Yeah, I knew” – Splice.