Saturday, October 09, 2010

Splice

(2009) ***1/2

When this ended and the credits started to roll, I suddenly noticed the movie only has seven people in it. There are plenty of extras to make it work on a large scale, but actually it's this tight, intense little story. Adrian Brody and Sarah Polley are so damn good at selling Clive and Elsa that you find yourself willing to accept a lot of silly stuff.

Julie was halfway through this when I got home, so I watched the first half later. She had already mentioned that C & E had fantastic fashion sense, but I was still knocked over by the level of refined hipness on display. Their clothes, their pad, their AMC gremlin painted like Starsky and Hutch's car... you just really want to be their friends. And as I look at the weird art in the still above, and especially that giant vinyl toy animal off to the right, I realize the costumes and production design are doing something quite clever: putting a positive face on the bold, offbeat aesthetic of these intelligent characters so it kind of makes sense that they see such beauty in the goddamn MONSTERS they're creating.

Elsa makes a very pointed "he's so cute!" comment as they and all their assistants celebrate the second successful birth of a horrible giant flesh maggot. They put it in a tank with the first one, and watch as the two thingies communicate by each extruding a liquidy purple moose-antler-looking thing that is basically a much grosser version of the ponytail-mounted biological USB ports shared by every native critter in Avatar. And everybody's all amazed but I'm thinking "This is the result of gene splicing? What the FUCK animal DNA did you splice together to get here? Couldn't you have started with something we could recognize, like an octoparrot or a ratmonkey or something? Christ."

I mean, when you hear yourself say: "I think it's time she lost that stinger and those toxin sacs," doesn't it dawn on you that it really never can be too early?

The other thing this movie asks of you is the acceptance of some silly science. When our scientists embark on their clandestine project, the montage is as fast-paced as those sequences in Shaun of the Dead when he's getting ready to leave the house. Syringe whip microscope whip typing on computer whip test tubes whip computer graphics, whip whip whip. And then they just happen to have an unused lab containing an artificial womb with a egg cell all ready to go. Hmmm.

While they're brilliant enough to have a great car and make the cover of Wired, these two are not people who should be put in charge of such sophisticated equipment. When they have to move their secret creation to an isolated farm and she briefly gets away from them, Clive has the temerity to accusingly say "This is the worst case scenario! An artificial creature set loose in the world!" This from the guy who has certainly seen Jurassic Park and can certainly tell the difference between InGen's high-security cages for transporting genetic abberations and his high-security big wool blanket.

While these gripes do tickle at your brain when you're watching Splice, they are of course handy devices to present some interestingly creepy monsters and keep the plot from bogging down. They're also central to telling what is mainly a character-driven story, digging into the personal dynamic of our heroes and getting behind the mad in the mad science. Elsa's bizarre motherhood issues propel the plot's beginning and continue to seep to the surface, while Clive's problems run even deeper. On a few separate occasions he displays a perfect willingness to put an end to their creation's life, and he then goes and... well, I guess when you cross a line and then another one, eventually you're running around yelling "fuck lines!"

Personally I think they should've just gone ahead and become full-blown mad scientists. What good comes from finding out the reasons? It's mad! The only real requirement is proper style, and Clive and Elsa have style to burn. I say ramp up the hairdos, fire up the Van de Graaf generators, strap on some bitchin' goggles and send your genetic abberations out to do your bidding.

4 comments:

Catfreeek said...

Terrific review, I'm gonna have to put this one in my queue.

Landshark said...

This looks like a pretty gorgeous movie. Awesome review...tickled my brain, for sure.

JPX said...

Great summary/analysis. Love your line, "I say ramp up the hairdos, fire up the Van de Graaf generators, strap on some bitchin' goggles and send your genetic abberations out to do your bidding." What a perfect description of every mad scientist.

I caught this last Spring and for some reason it just didn't do it for me. As I noted in my comment in Julie's review, the characters are all lit in an unflattering manner and I struggle to see Adrian Brody in any leading role. He always appears dysthymic to me. I also hated his wife in this film, she just grates like a tic burrowing into your skull as you sleep. The greatest problem I had, though, was the creature herself. Despite proclamations of, "Isn't she cute?" I found myself yelling at the screen, "No, she's not!" I never bought into her sexualization because, as I noted before, she appears to have Down Syndrome.

Still, I loved the final 20 minutes, which is when the film finally came alive for me. I wish they hadn't given away the fact that she sprouts wings in the ad campaign, it was a nice touch.

I almost believe that I would have enjoyed this more had the "creature" looked different. I couldn't help but think she looked "silly" the entire time I was watching Splice. Also, for me, her weird bird chirps made me laugh and detracted from the gravitas of the story.

Whirlygirl said...

Great review! I'm checking this out too. As I mentioned in Julie's review, I was so on board for this when it came out, but lost interest due to poor reviews, particularly from JPX.