Film Review – Splice
If you’ve seen either of the podcasts I’ve guest hosted with Spencer over the last few weeks, you know I was excited for Splice. I was really hoping for a solid, entertaining sci-fi horror film. At the least, I hoped it would be schlocky fun.
This movie is not fun. It is the opposite of fun. It made me feel some serious ICK. Really: I had a notepad, and at one point about halfway through the movie, I scrawled across it ICK ICK ICK ICK. I couldn’t say anything more eloquent at the time. From about the twenty minute mark, I just wanted it to be over.
Let’s go back. Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley are biochemists/couple Clive and Elsa (catch the homage to the cast of the old Frankenstein films?). In a reasonably intriguing opening scene, they preside over the “birth” of what looks to be a large, ever-so-slightly-phallic slug. This is an animal hybrid they’ve created as part of some research looking for some sort of protein. Or something. Does it matter? They’re splicing.
Though they’re ordered not to by the higher-ups with the cash money, Elsa insists on secretly attempting to splice animal and human DNA. At first, I was pleased that it was the woman scientist wanting to forge ahead with the potentially pioneering research, and the man who is afraid of the moral implications and the risk of getting caught. This was before I realized that a recurring theme of the movie would be, essentially, “Brody, stop being so pussy whipped and just get your woman to do what you say already.”
The creature Elsa and Clive create grows at an accelerated rate, and soon looks something like a bald little girl with a half-velociraptor body. She can’t talk, but she is strong and she can jump around and make noises like the girl squirrel from that one scene in the cartoon Sword in the Stone. Elsa names her Dren, and soon starts getting too attached to the specimen. She is acting a little more like a mother than an objective observer. And when Elsa’s own crazy-mom issues start coming to light, it’s apparent that whatever relationship she’s developing with Dren is going to be a little more Mommie Dearest than Gilmore Girls.
Elsa and Clive have a lot of similar arguments about what to do with Dren. (I assume that whoever wrote the screenplay really took to heart the notion that “drama is conflict.” Almost every conversation is just two people bickering.) Meanwhile, the other scientists are picking up their slack with the slug things. Stuff is getting tense in the lab, and evidently some important details get overlooked. When the slugs go on display for the company shareholders, things go horribly wrong.
This is the movie’s one truly good scene, the one that hits the right level of surprise, with just a hint of glee. If the rest of the movie could have sustained that tone, it would have had a better chance at success. But it’s all over the place, trying to be a satire of parenthood in one scene, a creepy thriller in the next, a thought-provoking morality tale after that. It’s not clever enough to pull any of that off. Plus, the dialogue is filled with clichés (Someone actually says: “I’m sorry. I had to. It was the only way.”) and the plot turns are far too heavily hinted at well before they occur.
Up until this point, Splice is simply a bad movie. It goes from bad to vile in the third act. If you don’t want to know where it goes, stop reading now. Spoilers ahead.
Around about the time that Dren grows to look like a bald supermodel with a half-velociraptor body (who still can’t talk), they take her out to the abandoned farm where Elsa grew up with her crazy mother. Elsa starts getting creepier: overprotective one minute, angry the next. Clive becomes protective. And slowly, their twisted little family unit shifts into more of a good old incestuous love triangle. The overtones of this are heightened when we get the obvious reveal that Elsa used her very own DNA in the splicing process that made Dren. She says to Dren in a tear-filled I-love-you-though-I’ve-just-slapped-you moment: “I’m inside you.”
Eventually, in a scene that I’m sure caused me permanent trauma, Clive and Dren have sex. Of course, Elsa walks in on it. The whole thing is just gross. I guess the filmmakers are going for a “what makes a human a human?”/”I still love you Jeff Goldblum, even though you are half-fly now” kind of vibe, but none of it worked for me. And any modicum of forgiveness I had for what the movie was trying to do was completely ruined by the final sequence.
So. In the aforementioned one cool scene, the spliced slugs that were supposed to be male/female lifemates gruesomely killed each other and exploded all over the shareholders. We find out this was because one somehow changed gender from female to male. The males could not abide one another—thus, Slug Death Fight. Of course, after this, we’re waiting for the moment when Dren herself flips genders—at just the right second of coincidence for the plot. After all these weeks (months?) of events, the actual moment when Dren “dies” and is reborn male occurs right as two other scientists arrive at the farm to see what’s going on. Of course, they are immediately and violently dispatched by the new faster, stronger, better boy Dren. And then what is the next thing Dren wants to do? Rape Mom. That’s what he wants to do.
This is a horrible and gratuitous scene. Once Dren has chased Elsa through the forest and pinned her down, she screams out, asking what he wants. Dren answers, in the one line of dialogue the character says in the entire film: “Inside you.” And here is what I wrote on my note pad, in a fury: Was that a fucking rape pun???
It was. It was a rape pun. This movie not only contains a hideous, unnecessary rape scene (that’s purpose is to lead to the “shocking” final scene in which the obvious fact that Elsa will get pregnant from this attack is uncomfortably dragged out for “effect”), but IT PUNS ABOUT IT. We just…we don’t pun about rape. If you must include a rape scene (you probably don’t), at least don’t trivialize it that way. I’m not sure anything in any sci-fi or horror film has ever made me feel so fucking icky.
So I guess that’s an accomplishment.