Posts Tagged ‘Vincenzo Natali’

I find I have an odd relationship with the modern horror movie: stick me down in front of a Hammer film from the 60s or anything by Romero or Cronenberg from the 70s and I’m as happy as can be, but when it comes to new films in the genre, especially American ones, I’m usually the first to give them a miss. I can’t actually remember the last time I went to see a new horror film at the cinema – looking back, I see it was Sightseers, which is at least as much a black comedy as a horror. Before that, neither The Wicker Tree nor Berbarian Sound Studio are strictly full-on horrors, either. Perhaps it’s best to say that there’s a certain flavour of mainstream horror movie, strong on torture and cliched gore, that does not appeal to me on any level.

That said, I’m still as interested in a decent SF horror film as I ever was, and lurking in the pile of to-be-watched DVDs for an age now has been Vincenzo Natali’s 2009 film Splice. Canada has an extremely honourable heritage of intelligent and deeply icky SF-horror fusions, and – very appropriately – Splice is one such hybrid.


Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley play a couple of painfully cool and ominously self-assured genetic biochemists working for a pharmaceutical company in a very near future. Their success has extended to the creation of artificial hybrid lifeforms, which bear an unfortunate resemblance to large ambulatory todgers, and now they are planning the next phase: the splicing of human DNA into the mix and the inception of a wholly new being.

Unfortunately, their backers are more interested in the bottom line and cancel this line of experiments. Incensed by this curtailment of their freedom, Brody and Polley decide to proceed anyway, in an unofficial sort of way, just as a thought experiment. Of course, the thought experiment becomes a viability study, and the viability study becomes a full-blown laboratory specimen: Dren, a rapidly-growing, semi-humanoid creature made from the genetic material of half a dozen different species, human included. Their initial plan to dispose quietly of the result of their experiment is somehow impossible to follow – and their fast-developing bond with Dren is another unexpected factor.

Well, there is a sense in which Splice is not much more than a set of classic old genre tropes: you just know the two scientists are going to be consumed with hubris, set about playing God, and you know that there are going to be various complications, setbacks in their official work, and so on, and so on.

And yet, for all that this is very clearly at heart just another take on a very well-known and iconic story, Splice does manage to put a powerful new spin on it. When you think about it, given that Frankenstein is on one level a story about a parental relationship and the accompanying responsibilities, and one which was written by a woman, it’s peculiar that the perspective of the book is so wholly masculine. Splice could be looked at as a riposte or an amendment to Frankenstein, if not from a maternal point of view then at least a more balanced one.

This is not deeply buried subtext: most of the film is basically an extended metaphor for the trials of starting a family and the stresses this can place on a relationship. This is not especially subtly done – a scene early on where Brody and Polley discuss having a child in the conventional manner flags up the territory we’re in, fairly blatantly – but it is intelligently written and well-played. I get the impression that this is one of those films where the vast bulk of the budget was spent on CGI, and well-spent too: most of the various forms of Dren are convincing, but also convincingly real (this is possibly a rare example of the uncanny valley effect being employed to a film’s advantage). An effective mime performance from Delphine Chaneac as the adult Dren helps considerably too.

Of course, we are dealing with a much-told story here, and as the film continues the question becomes one of how it is going to conclude without becoming hackneyed and obvious. Up to this point the film has been, for the most part, thoughtful, convincing, and engrossing, but there’s a bit of a wobble at the start of the third act when the central metaphor is extended to include things like patterns of abuse from one generation to the next, and the consequences of semi-incestuous relationships. It does recover from this, and appears to be heading for an unexpectedly low-key, but still effective ‘soft’ conclusion.

But then the basic horror DNA in the film’s make-up becomes well and truly dominant, as thoughtfulness, restraint, and even to some extent logic all slip into the background and we are presented with a climax which is all about running, screaming, gore, and violence (some of it sexual). The film does a workmanlike job of ensuring this doesn’t come completely out of left field, in plot terms, but as far as what the film has really been about up to this point is concerned, it’s a complete shift of emphasis and tone.

Prior to the last ten minutes or so, I was very impressed with Splice – though not wildly original in any way, script, direction, performances and production values are all very strong, and it finds some new and interesting angles on an old story. The climax dumbs it all down quite horribly, and while I can see how this must have seemed necessary, simply as a matter of genre convention, it still feels like rather a shame. The bits of Splice I liked least were the bits where it felt most like a mainstream horror movie – but there was enough good stuff in the rest of the movie to make it a worthwhile watch.

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