Thursday, November 11, 2010

Splice

The mad scientist character is one that is often underused in modern cinema.  Aside from Dr. Evil, I don't know if I have seen any movies released in the past decade that feature a scientist making clearly bad decisions to advance science.  Thankfully, Splice fills that gap nicely.  So, if you've been yearning to yell at your TV screen because the otherwise intelligent characters are doing some obviously stupid things, this might be the movie for you.

Clive (Adrien Brody) and Elsa (Sarah Polley) are brilliant scientists and boyfriend/girlfriend.  Their research experiments in gene splicing have led to a fully lab-created being with all sorts of chemical perks, like the increased production of special enzymes.  That might not sound exciting, but consider this: these creatures (dubbed Fred and Ginger by the team) look like 35-pound maggots.  Are you hungry yet?  Well, hold onto that feeling; Clive and Elsa have been instructed by their financier that they need to turn this advancement into a product, pronto, so they need to find how to extract particular proteins from their super-maggots.  That means their job for the next few years is to shift through maggot poop until they find what they're looking for.  Or, Clive and Elsa could do what any research scientist would do and ignore their hard-to-come-by financing and go ahead into splicing human genes with their multi-species super maggots.  That's an idea that surely won't come back and bite them in the ass.  The idea was initially just to see if they could fertilize an egg with this new DNA splice, but then they decide to watch it gestate, with the agreement to terminate the fetus before birth.  Thankfully, this does not become an abortion-themed film.  The funny thing about growing a part-human super maggot is that you don't know how long it takes the fetus to come to term, so the creature is born, and presto!  This is what it looks like (well, in plush form, anyway):
Tastes like chicken?
With a little love and encouragement, this little chicken tender eventually morphs into something that resembles a bald French model, although with literal chicken legs and a tail, complete with retractable stinger.  The rest of the film asks how much this creature, whom they name Dren (Delphine Chaneac), is human and how much it is...other. Here's a hint: more "other" than "human."

Splice is a rare breed, a film that blends science fiction and horror, although it spends a great deal more time on the sci-fi than the scares.  It also has the benefit of good acting.  I'm not one to gush over Adrien Brody (I'm sorry, Daniel Day Lewis deserved his Oscar) and while I like Sarah Polley, she's not an amazing performer.  However, director/co-writer Vincenzo Natali does such a good job with this script that both actors have characters with varied (and logical) emotions and character arcs.  The movie starts as a peek inside an experiment that will obviously go horribly wrong, but it soon delves into the characters' ideas of love, parenting, and responsibility.  It's hard to say just how good Delphine Chaneac is as the experiment, partially because Dren chirps instead of speaking, and partially because Dren is played by others for about half of the movie --- remember, she grows and evolves from super maggot size.  Still, I thought she was very expressive, even if those expressions were pretty basic.  Oftentimes, movies like this rely too heavily on the CGI to lend the monster characters depth, but I was very impressed with the use of CGI here; it always looked good, and it did a great job blending the computer effects with the live actors playing the part.

The movie is not perfect, though.  The ending borrows too heavily from B-list horror movies, like Jeepers Creepers 2, after spending most of the movie making a pretty compelling on an emotional and psychological level.  Sarah Polley's character makes so many crazy choices in the first half of the film that I wanted to fast forward to the credits to see if her character's full name was "Bat-Shit Crazy Elsa;" in the film's defense, her actions are explained later, but in the moment I was flabbergasted by her stupidity.  I'm not used to seeing female characters as the incredibly short-sighted mad scientist in movies, but she captured that in an exasperatingly believable fashion.  You might also think that Adrien Brody dresses like a jackass in this film.  You would be right.

I'm okay with all that.  The parts of the movie that made me uncomfortable were definitely the sex scenes that involve Dren.  That's right, the part human-part monster has sex scenes, and they are plural.  Yeah.  Eww.  One is even a disturbing, but thankfully not graphic, rape scene.  These scenes are not long, and they are not too vulgar, but they are definitely awkward.  It's too bad that they are included in the film, because they are pretty shocking and definitely the most memorable scenes.

As weird and uncomfortable as the sex is, I have to admit that this movie did a great job surprising me.  And that's not even including the cross-species sex.  I loved that the issue of whether or not they should be messing with human genes is never really a factor in this movie.  I also really enjoyed the basic psychology used in the film, with Brody starting out as the gruff disciplinarian and moving toward more sympathy and Polley being the affectionate mother early on.  But guess what?  Many girls spend their puberty years hating their mother figures, but only Dren has a stinger.  Sucks to be you, Sarah Polley.  This film also has one of my favorite mother-daughter moments in movie history; after telling Dren that her mother thought that makeup debased women, Elsa then says, "But who doesn't want to be debased every once in a while?"  I wanted to high five someone after that, but was sadly watching it solo.  So, I clapped.  Because that's how you high five yourself.  Well, that's an awkward admission.  But not as awkward as sex scenes with Dren.

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