I went into Vincenzo Natali’s sci-fi horror, sadly enough, with the hindsight of spoilers firmly imbedded into my disturbed awareness. Otherwise, how else would a pervert-cum-rubberneck get to feast his eyes on bestiality and incest without previous knowledge and a guarantee of the surprise element remaining intact? With so many films being churned out and the oppressive trade-off of modern life, it’s nigh impossible to keep up. I suppose the high profile incident of an esteemed thespian reduced to fucking his daughter in a middling (it was well received by critics) half-Canadian venture should have been enough of a beacon to alert the crowing masses to line up at the booth but cinema is not above one crucial byproduct of modern realities. Marketing. In fact, a poor box office run is allegedly to blame for dashing the budding prospects for a sequel in a chilling denouement certainly yearning for one. Strangely enough, this film, and thank goodness for Adrien Brody, slipped through cracks of relevance of plenty though not all moviegoers. There is life after all post-release.
The gist of the film is a hipsterish couple taking a parenting detour while working on a delicate assignment. Shades of Cronenberg’s RABID are called up in their small lab, the field arm of a Big Pharma company the pair is working in their capacity as biochemists to patent protein serum as a cure for. What they are not however is bioengineers despite what any aggrandizing designation a business card or nameplate may claim. But no less they engineer a lifeform and after many unsuccessful attempts—with one blowing up in their collective face in a PR fiasco when a pair of their lab-created monstrosites (two hemorrhoidal blobs) decides to have an impromptu deathmatch while on stage during a presentation—they take their work underground after having the plug pulled from the experiment from higher-ups. On top of the detour above, one (and then both!) of this mad scientist duo would at various junctions take an equally distressing break from common sense and reality. The sordid little detail, this time? Elsa has inserted her own DNA into the test subject’s sequence, and by God, this one’s for keeps as per one deranged hopeful mother.
You can imagine the resultant subject from this “one last experiment” to be no different than the trial runs with the ensuing outcome to be another homicidal blob to add to the pile albeit one with more survivability as to also serve as the villainous impetus for the remainder of the film and… you couldn’t have been any more in the wrong because, hey, you must have missed the promo material. “That doesn’t look like the poster!” Or DVD cover. Or the featured image on the online review/film site. Or whatever medium you’re currently on. The product of their love [for science] is a bipedal variation of previous hemorrhoidal blobs with more survivability to serve as the villainous impetus for the film that also turns out to be fast-growing, almost-human hybrid with a shaven head and wide-set eyes its penultimate form combines a cross between Julianna Marguiles, Sinead O’Connor and some Natalie Dormer. Penultimate since there’s one more ace up its sleeve. It is versatile. So highly adaptable it is, it can experience spontaneous hermaphroditism depending on whichever comeuppance is next due.
And what comeuppance is that? Despite the level of originality showcased so far the film plays on expected sexual norms or tropes when Dern, fully grown presumably and raging with desire, makes a move on Clive and they end up rolling in the hay just as Elsa walks in on them. A few scenes later Dren, no slouch and an intimidating presence to start with, has morphed into male postmortem! And he rapes Elsa in retribution for God knows what exactly but presumably just on instinct in a scene horrifying as is without the necessary explicitness for Splice to make the leap toward something beyond the standard fare. A missed opportunity indeed considering similar levels of revulsion were absent in the more seminal POSSESSION from Andrzej Zulawski. Whereas the abortion scene epitomizes the deranged vision of Zulawski, the big reveal comes off more as contexualized closure than repulsion for the viewer. Vincenzo Natali’s SPLICE has some truly stomach-turning sequences thanks to terrifying monster design and taboo-broaching themes. The lab creations are disturbing with Dren being the highlight of the film for her, or its, uncanny valley likeness of a scientific breakthrough passed off as a false dawn. Unfortunately it doesn’t deliver on the disturbing promise of its warped themes, and though a dark film, it fails to transcend its shock and cross the realm of the decidedly dreadful and harrowing. More an indictment of entitled motherhood than a unhinged scientific zeal, could it be perils of wanting to be mainstream?