Vincenzo Natali, the director who gave us the Philip K. Dick-ian exploits of 2002s Cypher turns to a more visceral and darker form of sci-fi with his latest, Splice. Taking its cue from current, and future, scientific experimentation into human and animal genetics, the atmosphere and great physical SFX owe a fair nod to the daddy of intelligent body-horror, David Cronenberg. But Splice isnt a soft-retread of someone elses back catalogue, its an original and entertaining mixture of scientific arrogance, the frightening banality of the corporate bottom-line, some twisted oedipal greek tragedy, and good old monster mashing. Clive (Adrien Brody), and Elsa (Sarah Polley) are a couple of up and coming geneticists, and a romantic couple to boot, who are on the cusp of both experimental and commercial success with their manipulation of animal DNA into brand new life-forms. Life-forms called Fred and Ginger who, although lacking a little in the sophistication stakes, would make Craig Venter throw his toys out of the pram and straight into orbit. Fred and Ginger are the investment show ponies physical representations of future gene-based cures, and patents. But in order to keep some balance in the human / life-form stakes the film starts with a neat Fred eye view of actually being brought into existence, and happily concluding with some tenticular imprinting with Ginger. These arent just cash-cows but living entities. Of course, this being somewhat of a cinematic warning sign things arent going to go quite according to plan, and for those with a liking for gruesome disfunction the Fred and Ginger show takes on a surprising twist. As for the scientists, the intellectually combustible mix of Elsas glimpsed, damaged childhood, her subsequent reticence to commit to Clives questions about children, and the drive to create scientific firsts causes Elsa to go beyond their theoretical ideas about animal/human hybridisation and into the freakily actual. The result of which is the creature/character of Dren (fantastically played in adolescence/adulthood by Delphine Chanéac). Its this unplanned addition to Elsas and Clives family unit that exposes the dangers of a scientific communitys potential for jumping into the unknown with both feet and a blindfold. Trying to manage the care and development of a normal human being seems difficult enough, but a being that rockets through life stages at super-speed and has an un-nerving capacity to develop the odd, unforeseen physical augmentation takes parenting to a whole, new level. Throw in the emotional and its not only new, but nightmarish. Brody, who can also currently be seen in the decidedly different sci-fi extavanganza Predators, gives a typically assured performance, moving skilfully from moral authority to defective parent, and with Polley as the mother figure reflecting her own past onto their hybrid offspring, they create a real human dynamic in the films twisted unreality. Theyre helped by some superb creature effects from KNB, the mixture of as much physical effects work with the unavoidable CGI apparently a must for Natali. I may sound like an apologist for old-school film-making but theres nothing quite like the interaction between actor and goo to draw you into a scene. Natali, who co-wrote the screenplay with Antoinette Terry Bryant and Doug Taylor, also has the rare knack for taking a big idea, twisting it with a bunch of sub-strands, but still managing to condense it into an accessible and involving package, and Splice is no exception. That may seem like an element of how to make a move work 101, but as any of us know from our mountain of movie watching, its obviously a lot harder than it looks. True, some elements of the story may be easy to spot before theyre revealed, but it doesnt detract from the storys forward motion. You find yourself asking if theyre really going down that road, knowing full well that thats exactly what theyre going to do, and then waiting fixedly for the horrific result. Although Splice is a tragedy of scientific error, its not a polemic against science, and in particular, the never-ending debate about genetic manipulation. It does give a very graphic, and fantastical, display of what can go wrong, but in reality its a caution against ideas being in the wrong hands, not the ideas themselves. Be they success-hungry pioneers or the corporations that want to exploit their experiments. When Clive distils his motivations into the phrase Wired dont interview losers, it probably is time to start ringing the warning bells. Splice opens in the U.K. tomorrow.
Film writer, drinker of Guinness. Part-time astronaut. Man who thinks there are only two real Indiana Jones movies, writing loglines should be an Olympic event, and that science fiction, comic book movies, 007, and Hal Hartley's Simple Men are the cures for most evils. Currently scripting.