Of Fleshy Blobs and Bio-Ethics: SPLICE (2010)
Thankfully, there's Canada.
Without their particular brand of crazy, I don't know where the sci-fi/horror genre would be. Sure, there are the French, but that's another thing altogether. No, the Canadians have had this market cornered for decades now, with David Cronenberg's body horror oeuvre being most prominent, and now we have SPLICE, directed by CUBE mastermind Vincenzo Natali.
SPLICE follows superstar geneticists Elsa and Clive (a terrific Sarah Polley and Adrian Brody), who are also a happy couple, and their attempts to splice a new creature together and track down an enzyme that is a gateway for all kinds of cures. So, we have Fred and Ginger, two slug-like organisms who are apparently far more complex creatures, who bond ("imprint") with one another, and who are extremely successful at producing the protein that the pharmaceutical company is looking for.
After this success, Elsa and Clive want to move on to human splicing - the next logical step - but are told no by their big-pharma employers, who want them to shut down their operation and attempt to synthesize the protein now, so they can start making some money off of their years of research. And of course, Elsa and Clive ignore all of this ad create the thing anyway, "just to know that they can." Things are never as simple as they seem in these movies, and inevitably, they decide to put off destroying their creation, and stuff eventually goes very, very wrong.
And then the film becomes absolutely, thrillingly insane. I mean it: crazy.
After the initial shocks of the experiment - the premature birth, the rapid development of the creature, their fear of its potentially deadly abilities - Clive and Elsa decide to keep it, especially once Elsa becomes attached to it, and gives it a name, Dren, which is significant ("nerd" backwards) in that it stems from a discovery she makes while bonding with "her."
The decision to assign a gender to Dren is a significant one, because it fuels a lot of the most intriguing questions the film raises. It also makes complete sense, given the fact that during one of the most amazing sequences, while dancing with Dren, Clive notices Elsa's features in her, leading to the realization that the human DNA spliced into her was not some random donor, but was in fact her own way of having a child (a subject brought up by Clive, but which disinterested Elsa, perhaps as not being "enough" for her). This realization is where the film completely changes into something profoundly interesting, with Dren developing self-awareness, drawing conclusions about relationships, and, of course, typical adolescent urges.
The resulting final hour of the film is packed with questions and ideas about bio-ethics, relationship dynamics, greed, species and gender identities, sexual ethics and so much more it's mind-boggling. I was so breathless by the time I left the theater that I felt like I had just run a marathon (the way I feel after watching Cronenberg's films, too).
Now, I'm not going to spoil much of anything for you, but I will give this piece of information: the relationship between Dren and Clive sets all of this in motion, and it's one of those oddly erotic moments that you're quite simply unsure of at the time. The model and sometimes actress Delphine Chaneac was no doubt chosen to play the oddly attractive Dren (from the waste up, at least) because the creature is supposed to have some sort of sex appeal. The film thrives on our identification with this thing as a humanoid. It totally works, too, because throughout the narrative, the film consistently plays with who the audience identifies with based on their relationship and reactions toward Dren.
The six or seven college kids behind me hated it. They weren't kids, just immature adults. SPLICE is not a movie for someone who is just looking for a big dumb horror flick (which is acceptable, too), and it certainly is not anything like what you would expect. It is, however, excellent, and then you even get the traditional final reel freak-out horrorshow to top it all of. It's nothing short of brilliant, and easily one of the best films I've seen this year.