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A ZZWW Review of ‘Splice’


Today’s horror movies have become gagged up and irresponsible. The same could be said for romantic comedies, but this review isn’t about either type of film. Splice, the latest film by director Vincenzo Natali (known for his cult favorite, Cube) is less of a horror movie and more of a commentary on the human condition wrapped in sci-fi robes.

Much like Cube, Splice has elements of suspense and certainly takes the viewer in a new direction that couldn’t be imagined. Splice is by no means a great movie, but it does not make my list of horrible horror celluloid.

At face value, Splice is a terrible sci-fi suspense film that fails at truly gripping the audience and is too bizarre even for the post-Avatar diehards. Where to presentation excels is in it’s subtext. Splice takes on a multitude of intangible topics like love, ethical morality, the mysterious web of relationships, and what it means to be “human” and to have “humanity.”

**Spoilers Ahead**

Adrian Brody and Sarah Polley play rock-star bio-engineers Clive and Elsa who have created a new species from the genetic material of several different animals. This new creation is capable of producing hormones necessary for a new cattle vaccine and potentially provide cures for human diseases. The scientists’ program gets cut before they can experiment with using human genetic material in the next evolution of the creature. Elsa decides it’s more important to potentially save humanity by taking the experiment to the next level despite the risks and illegality of human cloning. Elsa wants to “damn the man” that is putting a potential cure on hold for the sake of making money, but Clive is torn about the use of human DNA in an experiment that could lead to the end of their careers.

Elsa’s experiment works. Sort of. The result is a hybrid of all the animals spliced into the genetic code, but with some startling surprises they didn’t expect. Clive feels the creature is in pain and should be relieved of it’s suffering, and they cane learn from it post-mortem. Elsa believes it’s wrong to kill the creature and wants to observe it’s unique life span in full. As the creature grows, it begins to shift from looking like a raw chicken on legs to a more humanoid form, which follows the scientists growing apprehension to treat the creature like an experiment. In it’s “toddler” form, Elsa tests the creature’s abilities for learning, recognition, imprinting, and other basic “sciency” stuff. Once Elsa realizes the creature is highly cognitive, she give it the name Dren. It’s at this point that everything changes for Elsa and Clive as emotions get in the way and they begin looking at Dren as a human/higher creation instead of an experiment.

Through the course of this, we discover that Elsa and Clive are lovers, struggling with the desires of parenthood versus a tremendously important career. We also learn that Elsa had a difficult childhood and is afraid of doing the wrong thing with a child of her own. Meanwhile, Dren is growing, learning, and becoming increasingly restless of her locked away existence.

As Dren’s humanity begins to show through more and more, the scientists have a difficult time remaining professional and end up taking the roles of parents. Dren also begins to develop a complex set of emotions ranging from fear of Elsa’s mother-like “punishment out of love” behavior to an Electra Complex lust for Clive’s tender fatherly expressions of concern and respect.

The great meltdown of the movie is when the roles and emotions get confused and entangled, forcing all the characters to act out in a volcanic explosion of confused morals and a misunderstood sense of responsibility to eachother, to Dren, and to mankind. In the end, it comes down to Elsa being paid to force an emotional separation with the child she is carrying in an effort to help humanity.

Splice explores relationships between parent and child, creator and creation, and science and compassion while debating the moral ethics of experimentation, financial exploitation, responsibility, and commitment. Glossing over the top is the philosophical query of what makes someone “human” and at what point does that person/creature deserve the same respect as a human rather than an experimentation.

Another question it poses is in what context does the same behavior become different for humans versus animals. More directly, there is a scene where Dren tempts Clive and he succumbs to his lust. Naturally, Elsa walks in on them making love in an “on the floor of the barn” tangle of lust and curiosity. Elsa is upset and feeling betrayed while the audience feels confused and sickened. But what makes Clive & Dren’s feelings wrong? She is not his daughter, and she is not fully an animal. Dren is very human, cognitive, and capable of being loved. Clive is “betraying” his commitment to Elsa, but even in today’s society there is little to be said for the subjective binds of romantic ties. On the flip side, Dren’s bio-chemistry undergoes a gender transformation and she becomes fully male. Dren escapes and attempts to kill the rival male, Clive. In her failed attempt to rescue Clive, Elsa is overpowered by Dren and then raped in an animalistic mating ritual. So which sexual experience is morally “wrong”?

On a side note, watching Dren’s evolution unfold is rather intriguing and well done. I give it about 5 seconds before we see Dren avatars in Second Life.

Viewing Splice as a run-of-the-mill horror film will disappoint nearly every viewer. If you are able to see beyond the buckets of blood to the principle content of twisted social morality, responsibility, and self-identity, you will find a deeply-involved metaphoric web of drama and revealing commentary. Go see it for some thought provoking ideas, but not for the great dialogue.

ZZWW Rating: 4/5 for letting the stupid people think it’s a dumb movie.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Ashley M permalink
    05/11/2010 7:00 am

    i heard that splice was supposed to be scary and so i was skeptical, but it was actually a damn good movie. as someone who keeps up with science and has a lot of friends in chemistry/bioethics, it brought up a lot of ideas that i hadn’t thought about previously.

    for one thing, i never thought of dren as being human. until the end of the movie, i saw her as an experiment that violated protocol and was totally on clive’s side when he initially wanted to kill her. i was frustrated that elsa wanted to keep her, raise her like a child.

    as the movie went on, i was able to sympathize more with clive and elsa’s role as parents (although still keeping my “experiment” stance). i was more freaked out by clive’s incestous role in the love scene than i was that she wasn’t human (and hey, who doesn’t want to sprout wings when they climax?)

    i was especially freaked when male dren raped elsa and killed clive. this confirmed my stance that the part of it that was human lacked empathy and could not function properly in our society. oh, and elsa keeping the embryo?! that’s a big qu’est-ce que le fuck for me, lol.

    all in all, i’m glad i watched it. i didn’t think i’d like it that much.

    • 08/11/2010 2:14 pm

      omg a real comment! They happen so… never. I’m glad you liked the movie more than you initially thought you would. I completely agree that the science behind it is incredible and completely plausible, but was overlooked by a majority of the viewers. I felt Dren was an experiment up until Clive tried to kill her, then suddenly I gained empathy for her. I’m not so sure her human side didn’t have empathy itself but the animal side that lacks the empathy was too strong and won out in the end, overpowering any of the higher capabilities of her human side. Yeah keeping the embryo was a little twisted, but probably no moreso than Clive being attracted to Dren because she contained Elsa’s DNA.

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