Reviewed by: Nick Da Costa

Splice was seen in a bit of a Sundance stupor. A mixture of altitude sickness and jet-lag jitters, not helped by sweet caffeine and cigarettes out in the cold. But what a jolt to the system. What an utterly demented, yet gripping, tale of boy meets girl, meets science, meets DNA, meets secret experiment, meets Hammer horror, meets Mary Shelley, meets Oedipus, meets bestiality, meets The Fly 2. The End.

And that’s just a taste of the psycho-horror details. The film is packed with them. Most of them squeezed into the character of Elsa (Sarah Polley) the scientist - Adrien Brody playing her colleague and lover Clive (surely the product of the movie script random name generator) - who seems to have most invested in the splicing experiment. After the sinister - aren’t they all - corporation backing the project insists they stick to the commercial potential over the benefit to mankind, Elsa takes the product of their labours, named Dren (Delphine Chanéac), underground, dragging Clive and his moral protestations with her.

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As you can see from the manic melange of content above, Natali’s directorial vision for this film is that of movie magpie. Sorting through the shiny styles of other directors and making something new and beautiful. Considering the title and themes, this might even be an intentional meta motivation, but you can certainly see some Fincher in the opening credit sequence that leads us through the creation of some strange new organism. And the fusion of sound, image and science in the earlier laboratory scenes feels like a sly nod to commercial Bayisms and trying to put the sexy into the N.E.R.D (Elsa and Clive’s private division within the pharmaceutical corporation).

It would be remiss of me to go into too much detail about the plot as you really need to go in as virgin as possible. Suffice it to say, a public announcement of the commercial application goes horribly wrong- outdoing the head pop in ‘Scanners’ for bloodbath and we find out that Elsa is a very, very damaged young lady.

Polley gives a suitably camp, ever so slightly unhinged performance as the woman who shies away from motherhood, yet seems hopelessly devoted to an experiment that imprints her onto a creature. Beneath the slightly hokey, Dr Frankenstein action there are some genuinely intriguing examples of body horror consisting of self-persecution, narcissism and self-mutilation that could make an fascinating addendum to any Cronenberg debate.

Chaneac is the real revelation here as the catalyst that fuses then fractures the couple. So good is the effects work that envelops her performance that lesser actresses would have been passed over with little more than a salute to the technicians, but this is not the case here. Every emotional detail is picked out with a nod of the head, a flicker of the eyes, a beaming smile.

Poor Adrien Brody looks rather bewildered throughout the running time. A feeble frat boy crashing up against the moral certitude of Polley. It’s this innocence that makes him so susceptible to a sexualised connection with the beautiful, yet feral Dren. It’s fascinating, sweet and especially grotesque - a distorted aspect of an overall analysis of post-millennial parental fears - all at the same time, and makes for some utterly bizarre imagery.

In fact, I think I can say, without a shred of hyperbole, that this movie has some of the strangest moments you’ll see on film this year. If not in the next several years. Or maybe you’ve already seen a man dancing the waltz with a beautiful woman who is reverse jointed, has a mirror effect face, a monkey’s tail and a scorpion’s stinger? Kiss your Na’vi sex fantasies goodbye sickos, this is the real groundbreaking, bar-raising, paradigm-shifting masterpiece. A chimera. With the body of a commercial horror and pulsating mind of the best of B-movie.

Reviewed on: 01 Feb 2010
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An experiment gets out of control after scientists go on the run with their human-animal hybrid creation.
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Director: Vincenzo Natali

Writer: Vincenzo Natali, Antoinette Terry Bryant, Doug Taylor

Starring: Adrien Brody, Sarah Polley, David Hewlett, Delphine Chanéac, Abigail Chu, Brandon McGibbon, Amanda Brugel, Stephanie Baird

Year: 2009

Runtime: 104 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Canada, France, US

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