Warning: Contains ample spoilers.
Bioenginer Elsa (Sarah Polley) meets a very young Dren in the sci-fi film “Splice,” above; and below, a young Dren (Abigail Chu) plays with her teddy, and a grown Dren (Delphine Chaneac) tries on makeup with her “mother” (Polley).
“Splice” is an appropriate title for a film that seems have spliced together two different films: a thoughtful, philosophical one — and typical Hollywood sci-fi thriller garbage.
I’ve always liked Sarah Polley, and Adrien Brody is OK — he’s a reliable if not an exciting actor — so to see them team up in “Splice,” the kind of movie that I usually wouldn’t see, seemed promising.
Alas, it turned out to be a false promise.
“Splice” takes on some interesting issues in its first portion, but then squanders it in its latter portion. The issues that it initially raises include the ethics of creating new life forms –including the question as to whether these new life forms are creatures in their own right, especially when they contain human genetic material, or are “specimens” to be treated only as objects of study (and thus killed when deemed necessary) — the ethics of corporate weasels being involved in bioengineering, and the age-old topic of parenthood.
Speaking of which, as scientist couple Clive and Elsa, Brody and Polley don’t make very good parents. As far as I can tell, we’re supposed to like Clive and Elsa, but their actions toward their human-animal hybrid creation (well, mostly it’s Elsa’s creation) that Elsa names Dren (that’s “nerd” backwards) don’t make them very likeable.
When Elsa asks Clive whether or not he was trying to drown the young Dren or whether he knew that she could breathe underwater, it belies Elsa’s intelligence and it makes us not like Clive very much too early in the movie. (Of course he was trying to drown Dren.)
Then there are the fairly heartbreaking scenes in which Elsa takes away Dren’s beloved cat — an awful thing to do to a minor, to take away his or her pet without extremely good cause — and in which Dren tries to go outside to explore, as any caged human being or any caged animal or any caged human-animal hybrid would want to do, and Dren smiles broadly in anticipation — only to get a shovel in the back of the head at the hands of Elsa.
None of this makes us like Elsa very much, and again, I surmise that we’re supposed to more or less like her.
And any misbehavior on Dren’s part, such as what she ultimately does to Fluffy, mostly stemmed from her shitty parenting and from rather normal human childhood and teenaged rebellion.
And then there’s the look of Dren. I can get over her chicken legs and her chicken feet that make her look like she’s always wearing high heels, and her goat-like pupils (which are pretty cool, actually), and I can even get over her possession of a monkey-like tail, but apparently the filmmakers didn’t feel that those alterations of the human schematic were enough. So they gave Dren a retractable lethal stinger at the end of her tail, and after a while she even rather ridiculously sprouts wings, all in all making her resemble quite the she-devil.
Speaking of that stinger, perhaps the best scene in the film — next to the hilarious scene in which the mole-rat-like bioengineered creatures named Fred and Ginger are introduced to their owning corporation’s stockholders (well, I laughed if only no more than a few others in the audience did…) — is the one in which Elsa decides that Dren’s stinger has got to go. (It kind of reminds me of how my mother destroyed my brother’s BB gun after he used it to shoot at his two siblings [including me].)
Up to that point in the film Elsa had always been defensive of Dren, but when you see Elsa cut Dren’s black dress off of her before performing a stinger-ectomy on Dren, suddenly the naked Dren becomes the lab specimen that Elsa had always insisted that Dren was not, and the symbolism of that scene makes one realize how much clothing serves to humanize us.
But as if the retractable stinger at the end of Dren’s tail — and her retractable wings, which no animal, to my knowledge, possesses — weren’t enough, the filmmakers then have Dren switch, unbelievably, from a female to a male.
Why? So that first she can seduce Clive into fucking her and then so that, as a male, she can rape Elsa.
That’s what I mean by the latter half of the film being typical Hollywood trash: It just wouldn’t be a Hollywood blockbuster if Clive and Elsa didn’t have sexual relations with their creature, would it? And we have to go as far with Dren as we can, even having her/him ominously flying around at the end of the film. (Hell, why didn’t they have Dren belch fire, too?)
Nor would it be a typical Hollywood blockbuster sci-fi film if Elsa weren’t shown pregnant at the end of the film, making a sequel possible.
So the first portion of “Splice” I give a B+ and the second portion I give a C-.
“Splice” is better-than-average entertainment fare for its genre, but don’t be fooled into thinking that the mere presence of art-film actors Sarah Polley and Adrien Brody (both of whom have won Oscars, Brody for best actor and Polley for best adapted screenplay) has elevated the bioengineered-monster genre that much.
My grade: C+